Zibby is joined by author Nick Shaw to discuss MY TEACHER, MY SON, a heart-piercing memoir (in prose, poetry, and photographs) about losing his nine-year-old son William in a freak skiing accident and navigating the depths of grief after that. Nick Shaw describes the day of the accident and then delves into his journey of grief, reflection, and newfound spirituality. He reveals how writing became a cathartic outlet for his emotions as he grappled with mortality. Finally, he describes his self-publishing experience, from enjoying the creative control to navigating distribution platforms.


Zibby: Welcome, Nick. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss My Teacher, My Son, Lessons on Life, loss and love. 

Nick: Thank you, super excited to be here and yeah share my story. 

Zibby: Nick, you wrote so beautifully, both in prose and in poetry, about the loss of your son William and loved that you included pictures in there.

Loved that we got to know him and his, you know, all his flaws and issues and joys and strengths. And like, you really. Like bring him to life for the reader, which is such a gift, getting his spirit out there and all of that. I'm so beyond sorry for your loss and everything your family has been through.

And I met Susie actually, she came to our new year, new chapter event. Anyway. Okay. I'm so sorry. Talk to listeners. Talk to me about the loss, the book, what you hope to get out of the book, if you did, all of it. 

Nick: Sure. Wow. Okay. Yeah. I guess just to give a bit of the background on where this all started a little over five years ago.

Now we actually just came up on the five year anniversary of William's death. We were skiing out in big sky, Montana. We're a family who liked to ski and, you know, we'll start out as a day, like any other day, you know, ultimately ended in, in my son, William dying in a freak and tragic ski accident.

It was not, you know, He was a good skier. We weren't even skiing on anything challenging. We were actually making our way down the mountain on a, on what's called a catwalk and something caused him to veer off that catwalk. And, you know, he hit a tree and died instantly on impact. I didn't see what happened.

Actually, he disappeared. He would, you know, he was missing for a while, and then they eventually found him and tried to treat him, but he was, it was too late. And so as anyone who's a parent, I do. Well, can or can't imagine. I would say it, it threw our lives into, you know, everything was turned upside down.

You know, it's not something you ever planned for or ever expect. It's literally your worst nightmare as a parent. And when we eventually made our way back home, all of us, my wife, Susie, my younger son, Kai and I, we started our own unique processes of grief. And then for me, I think what happened was it caused me to really look at myself because, you know, one of the things that happens when you lose a child is you are confronted with mortality like you have never been before.

And so I did a lot of reflecting my own life and just. You know, was sort of consumed by the question, what can I learn from this? And as I meditated and reflected the lessons that started to come to me, I wanted to share them. And initially, those lessons and everything I was feeling and processing came out in, in, in a series of poems.

And then eventually I expanded those poems into the book, My Teacher, My Son. 

Zibby: Did it. I mean, did it help? Does anything help? 

Nick: Yeah. I mean, so yes, it did help. I think first, well, it's a number of ways that it helped. For me, sort of my way of grieving was less outwardly emotive. So I'm an introvert. And so for me, Going inward and doing all of that reflection was my way of processing.

So that absolutely helped. Second is it gave me a way to make meaning out of something that to me seems so random and senseless, right? You know, it was really a freak accident. And so I had to give it. And so for me, that was sort of learning and then eventually writing the book. And then the third way it's helped is it's created a legacy for William.

And as you said, you got to know William, right? He was a really special kid. He, you know, had his own struggles. You know, I talk about in the book with anxiety. And he came up with this beautiful mantra, be yourself. And so I just want to get that into the world. 

Zibby: Have you found that the book has led you to lots of other people who have been a resource as well or not so much?

Nick: When you say a resource, what do you mean? 

Zibby: Like has it found its audience among other people who then reach out and say, I've been through this and I want to help, or let's connect, or it's helped me so much. 

Nick: Yes. Yeah. No it definitely has. That's been amazing. You know, as a first time author, you know, not quite knowing how this thing unfolds.

It's been amazing. That's been the best thing or the biggest gift out of this project is having people reach out to me and tell me how the books impacted them because I wrote it cause I wanted to have an impact. I wrote it because I wanted people to, you know, think about their lives differently.

If they're not living as meaningful and purposeful lives as they would like to. My hope is that this book can help them. And so when I get to hear from people who, for whom it has that impact it's awesome. 

Zibby: I know you write about this, but talk more about how it's changed your day to day life in terms of career and goals and all that other stuff in life.

Nick: Yeah, I think for me, if there's one word that describes how it's changed me, it's being more intentional. I think a lot of us get stuck on this cycle of being super focused on our careers and always in go mode and doing. And I think when that happens and we don't pause and reflect and take stock and be more intentional about the choices we make, you know, we can get into trouble.

And so for me, I've really tried to be a lot more intentional about. you know, where I'm spending my time, you know, when I'm with my kids trying to be more present. Yeah, just asking those important questions and making sure I'm making the right choices for me and for my family and for whoever I'm engaging with.

Zibby: One thing that you do beautifully, I mean, you do a lot of things beautifully, but one thing in particular is you really take us into the moments where it's happening, right? Instead of leaving it as sort of, oh, you can't imagine. You're like no, you're going to imagine you're going to be right here in the room.

You're going to be, you know, when we find out you're going to be there when we have to tell you, you know, you just take us in to the excruciating pain and shock and. And we like live it with you. I mean, obviously not, but you know, as much as you can with another human through a book. And you know, it's similar.

I don't know if you've read Rob Delaney's A Heart That Works. You know, he wrote about his son and just in such a raw, he, his is a little more angry. I feel like. I don't know if I were to compare, you know, but just the raw emotion and not hiding and not protecting the reader, per se, from the pain. Tell me about that and if it was an active choice or, you know, had you kind of avoided it in conversation, but you felt okay and, you know, were you just like, I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Like here, let me give it to you, read it, and then we can talk. 

Nick: Yeah. No. No, That's a great. I'm glad you brought that up because I was actually very intentional about that. So in my day job, I'm an executive coach. I design and deliver leadership development programs. And whenever I do that, I always designed to try to create an experience because we learn as adults a lot more from experience as opposed to just. conception, you know, concepts. When I wrote this book, it was that in mind for the lessons of the book to ring true. You have to be able to connect in some way with the experience. And that's why I really, I didn't sort of, I didn't pull any punches. I wanted people to be as close to what it was like as possible through the book.

So that way when they read the lessons, they can Hopefully it'll be more impactful and resonate more. And I've heard from people it's been interesting, there's been two types of readers. There are people who have read the book and have said, wow, I picked up your book, couldn't put it down and you have to go back and reread it.

And then there's the readers who say, wow, I picked up your book. I had to put it down because I need to step away for a minute. So either way, it's fine. But I'm, you know, that, that was the intention is I want, I wanted to sort of bring people there. 

Zibby: You also write a lot about. Your wife, Susie, and how it's impacted you and your parenting and your relationship and all the things that, you know, any sort of trauma, but particularly I'm sure this does to a family and all of it.

Talk a little bit about that and what happens or what happened to your marriage and how you go through something so painful together. I feel like I read some statistic at some point that, you know, the rate of divorce is higher among people who have lost a child. Did you ever read that? 

Nick: I've read that and it was so in our mind the minute it happened.

So yeah, I'll talk about a specific situation that happened and then talk a little bit about, you know, how we actually made it through. We actually, she and I just gave a talk a couple weeks ago. We've shared the lessons we learned as a couple on this, you know, how you can face adversity. So when William As I mentioned before, there was a search, and so eventually they brought him to a ski patrol clinic, and I was there, and Susie wasn't there because she had gone back to our cabin when he was missing, thinking maybe he skied there.

So I found out first that he died, and then I was waiting for her to get to the clinic, and I didn't want to tell her over the phone, so I just, I waited. And when she eventually got there, so before she got there, I was really scared to have to tell her, right? Because he was with me. I felt like it was my responsibility.

So I let this happen, you know, all the guilt and I was thinking, what's this going to do our family, you know? Cause yeah, you hear the statistics where you think about, you know, you hear the story or anecdotally about. You know, couples getting divorced and then, you know, it creating further trauma for any surviving kids.

And so that was just like going through my head as I was waiting for her. And then she finally got there. And as you know, I told her and as you can imagine, she crumbled to the floor and was completely distraught. And so I ran over to her and, you know, tried to be with her and hold her. And then when she composed herself, she kind of put both her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, it's not your fault.

It, you know, it's one of the most compassionate, selfless things anybody's ever done for me. Cause she in that moment saved me and then saved our family, right? Because she set the tone for how we were going to do this together. Cause it was gonna require both of us to do it together. And so we, I'd say several weeks later, you know, when we got home and we're trying to make sense of everything, we had sort of a look in the eye moment of like, we are not going to let this destroy our family.

And so, ever since that moment, it was all about, we got to survive this thing for William, for our younger son, Kai, and so that's what we did. 

Zibby: Man. To switch gears and talk about this as a book and you as an author, how did you approach that process and turning it into a book for sale and, you know, in terms of publishing and all that, talk about that piece of the puzzle.

Nick: Yeah, so I finished writing the book, I'd say it was probably June of 2022 or the first draft, let's say, and then I realized, okay, I need some help. I need to figure out how to edit this thing and do all that. So I hired, initially hired an editor just to kind of help me bring the book deeper. And then when I got it to a sort of a place where I felt like, okay, maybe I could, shop it around or put it out there to kind of get people's perspective on it.

I talked to a couple of different authors about how to do it, you know, so publish versus self publish and I guess what I'd learned about the sort of publishing route is at least from a couple of the authors I spoke to who'd actually done it both ways is that. Number one, it'll stretch, it'll, you know, lengthen the process, right, because you'll have to shop it around and negotiate and do all that stuff.

Nick: And then they'll want to get their eyes on it and offer their perspective on how it should be rewritten or things like that. And at that time, I was just ready to put it into the world. I didn't want to, you know, Lengthen the process and I also didn't want to relinquish control over the content because it's obviously too personal a story and so I decided to self publish and so then I found a publishing coach who kind of helped me figure out like the ins and outs of how you deal with Amazon.

Nick: I found a book designer who helped me, you know, design the cover as well as, you know, the interior of the book. And then eventually, yeah, put it into the world. And then I, you know, I worked with a publicist to kind of help me, you know, get in front of different folks and do podcasts and things of that nature.

Nick: And yeah, that's pretty much the process I underwent. 

Zibby: Wow. So how long after you wrote it, were you able to sell it? This is going to blow the minds of traditional authors here. 

Nick: So I finished, I guess the final version was done August of 23 and it went live in November of 23. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Nick: Thank you so much.

Nick: Yeah. 

Zibby: Wow. I didn't even know there were, I mean, I should have guessed that there were self publishing coaches for Amazon and all of that. 

Nick: Yeah. And then my, that my self publishing coach also, she became, she was my editor as well. My second editor. So she kind of knew all of it. Yeah.

Zibby: Huh. Would you do it again this way?

Nick: It's a good question. I don't know. Yeah, maybe. I mean, it, I guess it depends on the type of book. I mean, it was a good process. So I guess from a publishing route, you know, if I were to go with a publisher, I'd have to understand what would be the value add, so to speak. 

Zibby: So did you choose an Amazon set, like what company did the self publishing? Was it through the Amazon 

Nick: direct? It was the Amazon direct and then it's also on Ingram spark. Yeah. Yeah. So it's, you can get it both places. Yeah. 

Zibby: It distributes to both. 

Nick: It does. So basically it's quite amazing.

Zibby: I'm like, teach me how this works. 

Nick: So my book designer helped me to create a file for the book.

Nick: Then you just upload that to either site and that's it. So you don't need to have inventory. You just put it out there. There is a free sale process on Amazon that I guess, you know, to help you generate some demand for initial runs. And so you do a lot of, you know, promotion things of that nature, but then right now I don't really do anything.

It's just, it's out there and if someone wants to order a copy, it basically, they can print on demand, which is quite amazing. 

Zibby: I don't even know why I'm a publisher. This is a huge waste of time and resources. I should just get the author's book and put them up immediately. And I don't know. I don't know why I go through all this.

I mean, I shouldn't say that. 

Nick: Well, I mean, I guess if they're elements that you think are less value add for you and you can outsource, why not? Right. I mean, there's probably a lot you bring from a publishing perspective that adds value, but you know, you focus on, I would imagine. So absolutely.

And then you focus on those and less on the stuff that, you know, other places can do better. 

Now my mind is spinning. Maybe there's some sort of hybrid model or something. I don't know. What's something that you wish you could tell William now. 

Well, I wish I could tell him, you know, that his name is who he was his legacy is continuing on. It's helping people. So I wish I could tell him that I wish I could tell him that we're doing, you know, in spite of everything, pretty good as a family, you know, his brother Kai is now 11, which is an age he never got to. And then we decided to have another child after William died. So it's his littlest brother, Bodhi, who looks a lot like William, by the way, has sort of brought some balance back to our family.

Yeah, and I just wish I could tell him that he's missed. 

Zibby: Do you believe that souls never die? That they're around? Do you believe in all of that science and all of that? 

Nick: I do. I do. Yeah, it's funny. I wasn't spiritual before this. I absolutely am now. Yes. I Thank you. When we die, when we leave this life, our souls go back to sort of where they came from, which is, you know, I call it the universe.

So I believe very much that he's out there and he's, yeah, looking down on us. And I do try to connect with him, you know, when I meditate and I will try to talk to him. And so, yeah, 

Zibby: That's great. I believe in all of that too. Sometimes it takes a loss and then you're like, Oh, I get it. I get it now.

Nick: Well, yeah, I think that's right. I mean, and that's, it's unfortunate that sometimes it only comes through loss, but I guess that's a silver lining.

Zibby: I guess so. Well, Nick, bravo on taking something so personal and painful and putting it out there for everybody else. It's really just such an act of generosity on your part.

It's commendable in so many ways and I am just, it's heartbreaking what you went through, but I'm so glad you're You know, one foot forward, if that's, you know, not that you'll ever be the same, nor should you be. But it's just such a gracious giving act for you to do this book. And I really hope that the people who need it, and even those who don't, pick it up, and read it learn the lessons that you learned the hard way. 

Nick: Yeah. Thank you. And I hope so too. And hopefully it can change people's lives for the better. 

Zibby: I hope so too. All right. Thank you so much for coming on. 

Nick: Thank you, Zibby. 


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