Muted Joy: Learning to Live Again

By Christy Heitger-EwingSeptember 9, 2016

My mom had a hearty laugh and a gentle voice, both of which soothed and uplifted those around her. So when clinical depression snuffed out her sweet spirit, the world became muted. It was like going to an amusement park wearing earmuffs. Minus the cheers, giggles, and screams of delight, the air was vacant, odd, and lifeless. On April 2, 2013, the park grew dark then went pitch black when Mom succumbed to the fight and took her own life.

I was at once stunned, sickened, and unsettled. How was I supposed to move forward from this tragedy? How could I live when I couldn’t breathe? How could I feel whole with my insides hollowed out? How could I laugh in the absence of joy? I was completely lost in the world.

Before Mom’s death, I always saw the proverbial silver lining in every situation. Sure, I had my down days like everyone else, but I was ripe with positivity. When Mom died by suicide, however, suddenly everything I ever knew, everything I ever was, anything I ever believed in, clung to, or hoped for was obliterated. As a result, happiness took a hiatus from my life.

At times, I questioned whether I could go on living with this level of pain eating me up from the inside out. It’s not that I wanted to die, though I do remember thinking one night during a lightning storm that getting struck by a bolt wouldn’t be so bad because then I’d be put out of my misery. I just didn’t know how to keep living.

Those first 18 months after Mom died are a total blur. I couldn’t tell you what I thought, did, or said, where I went, or what I wanted; I simply existed. As the months passed, my emotions weren’t quite so erratic, fragile, or volatile. I no longer cried at the drop of a hat or whimpered at the mention of Mom’s name. Nevertheless, I remained trapped in a sea of sorrow.

I was no longer living life—certainly nothing close to life as I had known prior to Mom’s death. Every day I struggled to process how to survive in this world that now felt so void of purpose. And yet with a family to care for and a career to focus on, I knew I had to make a conscious choice to not only survive but also to fully live again. So I engaged in all of the things that I thought would help me reclaim a semblance of my former way of being: I exercised, I wrote, I sought therapy, I took up yoga. And though it felt good to establish some healthy routines, I simply could not reclaim that joyful spirit.

Every day I longed to feel something beyond the dull ache of emptiness that had settled into my soul like a clogging mound of dust bunnies. I was like a little girl, terrified of what may lurk beneath the unknown waters yet intrigued by the mesmerizing ripples in the lake. If I stuck my pinky toe in and let it linger, would I get bitten? Or worse yet, pulled under and eaten alive? Even if I survived the experiment of returning to the land of the living, could I draw enough oxygen to continue? If I managed to carve out a small space within my heart for joy to grow, would I be able to nurture and preserve it? Despite being applauded for my resolute strength, inside I felt weak, scared, and lonely.

Though my soul thirsted for levity, it eluded me. Something was prohibiting me from accessing joy, and I suspected it was Mom’s blessing. I desperately wanted to know not just that she was OK but also that she was OK with me being OK. I realize how ridiculously convoluted that sounds, but grief is nothing if not complex.

I went to bed each night praying that I might subconsciously feel her presence. I woke up each morning hoping I’d find a sign from her that let me know she was still in my corner. Instead, months passed without my getting a heavenly nod from Mom.

Then I got an e-mail from the director of a writer’s workshop I was planning to attend. I’d been selected to perform a stand-up comedy routine at the workshop and to do it on April 2—exactly three years since Mom’s passing. Goose bumps covered my arms; this was my chance to test those strange but captivating waters.

“Are you nervous?” one of the fellow attendees asked prior to the performance.

“A little,” I said. “Mostly I’m excited.”

This was a big deal—excitement. I could practically feel the cobwebs shaking loose on this long-lost emotion.

My heart raced as my time slot drew near. I wiped the glisten of sweat from my chin. When my name was called, I inhaled deeply and stepped up to the mic, straining to catch a glimpse of the audience as I squinted in the bright spotlight.

I began my set and noticed that my formerly muted world now entertained sound. I heard bursts of laughter. I felt the reverberation of clapping. I caught wind of my husband’s distinctive chuckle, and that was soothing. For the first time in a long while, I had allowed pure joy to seep inside my soul. The fact that I was performing stand-up comedy for the first time ever on the three-year anniversary of my mom’s death was a sign not lost on me.

Instead of wrapping my arms around the tallest tree during a lightning storm, I chose to keep on living. And through living I found that Mom’s hearty laugh and gentle voice didn’t just lead me to the stage; it led me back to life.


Bio: Christy Heitger-Ewing is a freelance writer living in Avon, IN, with her husband and two sons. She’s a columnist for Cabin Living magazine and also writes regularly for Outreach, the Lookout, and the Huffington Post. In addition to writing the award-winning book Cabin Glory (, Christy has contributed to over a dozen anthologies, including five Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Christy is a devoted advocate for suicide awareness and writes openly about clinical depression and suicide in an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Visit Christy’s author website at

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Comments (2)

  1. Bellla

    My muma died 14 year ago. We were best friends, carer and caree both ways, soul mates. Our relationship wasn’t always perfect, hello teen years! But she was my one.
    I can’t say grief goes away,or due gets easier. But I can say, for me, I did learn to adjust. Live with it. It feels like it sits in the corner of the room of my brain, rocking in an eery chair,watching everything. Every so often standing up doing a horrible dance for attention stamping it’s feel.
    I’m glad I still grieve, because it’s a form of love. But I’m also glad I can smile, dream, they are love too
    I’m so sorry for your pain, I’m glad you now also have other feelings to keep it company.
    You your mom and loved ones are in my prayers.
    God bless

    Reply  |  
  2. Nicki

    I love this more than I can tell you. I feel like my thoughts were transformed elequently on paper, because I could never write something as beautiful as this. Thank you, thank you 1000 x’s

    Reply  |  
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