Grieving, loss and healing

Bloomington native Christy Heitger-Ewing helps others when she writes about the difficult subject of suicide in your own family

It is a grief that never goes away, and often only becomes bearable when it gets pushed into that locked closet in our brains, where people put things they feel they’ll never understand, never reconcile and never get over.

How do you process the suicide of a parent, a sibling, a close friend? How do you deal with the “what ifs,” even when everyone tells you, you couldn’t have prevented it, you tried.

Christy Heitger-Ewing (Courtesy photo)

Christy Heitger-Ewing will do a book signing in Bloomington Saturday, March 5, following the recent release of her essay in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving, Loss and Healing.”

“This is my 14th “Chicken Soup” I’ve contributed to, although I’ve written about grief in a lot of different ways,” the Bloomington native said recently from her home in Avon. “Grief affects everyone, but there is a stigma that some people feel about suicide, because they feel it’s too personal, too embarrassing. For me, I kind of feel like Mom is still helping people, even though she’s not here. That’s one thing that my Dad and Brother didn’t understand from the start. They thought it was embarrassing and me, I guess I’ve always been the type to talk about things.

“I wrote my first piece in high school for The Whole Press, that student section the (Herald-Times) used to put out. I wrote about having anorexia in eighth grade and it was scary to put something like that out. But it was also reaffirming when people approached me to thank me for saying what they couldn’t say.

“I’m an open book,” she says. “I’ve written about my stage fright. I’ve written about failing college math, when your father (Les) is an accounting professor (and now professor emeritus) at IU, and your brother (Dan) is an accounting professor at Miami (Ohio). That is a little embarrassing,” says the double-major English and Secondary Education graduate from Indiana University.

Christy explains that her mother, Rozella, experienced clinical depression for many years. She might be too down to get out of bed in the morning. She might inexplicably just decline to talk. Prozac helped.

No one knew she stopped taking it, although in hindsight her mood grew darker and more solemn. “She stopped cold turkey and that’s the worst thing you can do,” Christy says.

Christy was in Indiana and her parents were living in Missouri, where her Father was teaching at Missouri State, when her Mother called one day in February, 2013, and confessed that she’d taken a mouthful of sleeping pills. Christy kept her Mother on the phone, got on a landline and called her Father. “Mom’s overdosed.”

The trip to the hospital was successful. Emergency room workers pumped her stomach, stabilized her, and said she was going to be all right.

And then they did the strangest thing. “They told her if she really wanted to kill herself . . . they basically told her how to do it,” she said.

The family locked up all medicine of every description and monitored Rozella. Meanwhile, Christy was back in Indiana with an 8-year-old and a 2-year-old and a head full of heartache. “I was trying my best to be the best mom I could be,” she says. “My Mom was such a support system for me.”

Six weeks later, the call that no one ever wants to hear came. Christy was shopping for a children’s bike at Dick’s Sporting Goods when the cell phone went off. “Dad called and said your Mom has done it. He basically said don’t come. You’ll never get here in time.”

Christy dropped to her knees in the sporting goods store and cried. “I was so upset and everyone said I was in no condition to get behind the wheel but I think I could have made it the 500-mile drive,” she says. “I could have been there to hold her hand and say goodbye, at least.”

And so began the next phase of Christy’s life, an evolution that continues to write itself as the years go by. “To lose a parent like that – it gutted me in a way I didn’t know was possible,” she says.

Christy found a weekly suicide support group and didn’t miss a meeting for five years. “I could have gone every day,” she says. “I got comfortable with bawling my eyes out. I didn’t have to explain to anybody, why?”

She learned something else about grieving and healing as well. “You get this huge outpouring of support and empathy when someone dies and then it’s gone. Pretty quickly, really,” she says.

“So what I do now – if it’s not someone I’m close to, I just wait a month or two and then send a card or a letter. I had a woman down the street. Her husband dropped dead of a heart attack. So I waited,” she says.

“When I finally dropped in on her, we just sat for two hours and cried. It’s what she needed at the time. When you’re in the middle of it, you feel like you’re going to be stuck there forever.”

March 5, 2022: Christy will be signing copies of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving, Loss and Healing” from 10 a.m.- noon at Crumble Coffee and Bakery, 532 N. College Ave. 🐝