by Shawn Nuthall
Sometimes life will kick you in the teeth, but we do our best to persevere. As a child, I dealt with a lot of uncertainty as we moved around from state to state after my parents divorced. When I grew up and had a child of my own, it allowed me to heal many of my wounds I felt I had endured during my childhood. But alas, plans don't always work the way we'd hope. Heartaches and disappointments are part of life, but nothing prepares a parent for the death of their child. When a child dies, it disrupts the natural order of the universe. It crushes many of our hopes and dreams, and it throws our life's plan into a tailspin.
My daughter, Caitlin, was kind and adventurous, charming and intelligent. She lived freely and completely. She packed a lot of life into her twenty years, but Caitlin's suicide stripped away the hopes and dreams I held for my child. As one would imagine, the weeks, months and even years following Caitlin's death, I struggled with depression, anger, guilt, shame, sorrow and emotions I can't even put a name to. To say I was "devastated" doesn't come close to describing the emotional and yes, physical pain I endured. I felt as if the world was going to open up and swallow me whole. It was during these bleak days that I discovered yoga. I didn't actively seek out a yoga practice, I simply stumbled upon it during my search for something that would take away the pain. The love and support I received from my family and friends during this time was deeply needed and appreciated. But if I was going to get through this trauma, I would need to find something inside of myself and I found that in my yoga practice. Looking back, I can say that yoga saved me from turning to drugs and alcohol to numb my pain. Yoga saved my marriage from falling apart. Yoga saved me to be a father to my son, Liam and it saved me from throwing it all away to live like a hermit, far from society.
I came to yoga relatively late in life, I was 48 years old when I entered Yoga Teacher Training. In our youth-obsessed culture, being a middle-aged man who teaches yoga probably isn't very cool. However, I feel my age gives me a unique perspective on teaching and practicing yoga. Sometimes I wish I would have found yoga at an earlier age, but I know that a younger, more impatient, more ego-driven me would not have embraced the truths I found in my practice. I would have certainly connected with the physical aspect of yoga, but a younger me wouldn't have slowed down enough to fully appreciate the mental clarity a consistent practice can offer. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the physical aspects of the asanas, but at this stage in life, I can fully embrace the entirety of my practice with appreciation and love. My journey has allowed me to have clarity in my thoughts and my voice. It has given me the freedom to have my own style and the courage to embrace my vulnerabilities. Let me use the late Anthony Bourdain as an example.
Anthony Bourdain was the quintessential American raconteur, who opened up new roads and new worlds to us all. Not many people could make us believe we were going along for the ride, even if we never left our living room, but Bourdain did. Tony... Can I call him Tony? Although we never met, I feel as though I knew him. We all feel like we knew him. Tony's approach was honest, courageous, thoughtful and more vulnerable than it might appear at first glance. Just as Bourdain showed us the world through his unique perspective, I teach yoga through the view from my lens. The voice I have cultivated through my experience is honest, courageous, thoughtful and vulnerable, but most importantly, it's uniquely mine. Bourdain showed us all that there is no shame in speaking from a place of sincerity and pain. After all, isn't that what makes us human?
People often say to me "I can't imagine", when they talk about dealing with the death of a child and that's true, it is unimaginable. With Caitlin's death, I faced every parent's deepest fear and while I take it one day at a time, I'm still standing. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, losing Caitlin has brought more balance, clarity and hope to my life. Through my journey, I have found the wisdom of acceptance, the ability to forgive others and the courage to seek forgiveness for my own failings. I now realize I have gifts to offer and yoga enables me to share those gifts with the world.
Quantum physics shows us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it just changes form. So while Caitlin's physical body is no longer with us, her energy and her spirit are alive and well within my heart and my actions. In the words of Anthony Bourdain: "The journey changes you; it should change you...". Rest In Peace Caitlin, my precious child. Thanks for the ride, Tony.
Suicide prevention three digit hotline: 988