By Ray Stillfirstname.lastname@example.org
Some say there’s no such thing as a coincidence, just a guiding hand.
After the death of two of her four sons, Nancy Babst’s world was chaos, and her grief isolated her from family and friends.
But over three years of healing and soul-searching, a series of coincidences reconnected her with the world and with her sons, she said, who have pushed her gently toward using her experiences to help others.
The Babst Memorial Scholarship is the latest way Nancy wants to help her community. The scholarship, created in February, is in the early phases of collecting funds.
But by the end of the school year, Nancy plans to award an Auburn Mountainview High School student the scholarship award to attend a trade school, because the trades were a huge part of the Babst household.
Jim, Nancy’s husband, “has been in the trades forever,” starting out as a framer and moving up to become a commercial building inspector for the City of Bellevue, she said. After having her kids, Nancy herself went back to school to become an electrical contractor, and now works with the Department of Labor and Industries.
This may be why their two oldest sons, James Thomas (J.T.) and Garrett Daniel, got into the trades as well.
Garrett joined Laborers Union Local 242 and worked on Bellevue’s new Mariott hotel, and J.T. got with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and was hired by the BNSF Railroad even before he graduated trade school.
Garrett died in November 2014 by suicide in the family home in Auburn. There was little sign of his depression, Nancy said.
“Garrett had a great weekend with his friends prior to his death Monday. He had even called me about buying new tires for his truck and asked his brother to install them,” she said. “We had no idea that he was having suicidal thoughts. We knew our Garrett was sensitive, but not to the point of suicide.”
J.T. was killed in a tragic snowmobiling accident while on a trip to scatter Garrett’s ashes at a hot spring near McCall, Idaho in February 2015.
Nancy’s grief loomed over her for the next three years, even after moving the family out of Auburn to Enumclaw, where – coincidentally – there is a Garrett Street, and to get to their home, they have to drive over the old BNSF railway in town.
After that move, Nancy met Anastasia Allison, host of the Inspired Adventurepreneur Podcast, who – coincidentally – worked with J.T. at BNSF.
Allison used to work security for the railroad company, and was patrolling in Cumberland when she stopped Kelly, J.T.’s girlfriend, and Alan, a roommate, from trespassing on company property. Allison recognized Kelly, and ended up meeting Nancy shortly after.
Allison and Nancy have stayed friends, and since they first met, Allison left her job with BNSF and started her podcast series and the Musical Mountaineers, playing her violin on top of hills and mountains as the sun rises.
It was after Allison’s departure from BNSF that she suggested, on multiple occasions, that Nancy do her own podcast as a way for Nancy to express her grief and heal.
The idea didn’t take the first time. Or the second, or the third.
“Who am I to share my story?” Nancy said, recalling her thought process. “There’s been people that have gone through lots of tragedy. I’m not the only one. … I don’t view grief as levels. Anyone who has lost someone that’s important to them, their grief is no more or less than my own grief. I just thought, who am I to share my story, and who really wants to hear it?”
But then Nancy heard something that changed her mind.
Allison posts videos of herself on Facebook, playing the violin, and one day, she posted a video of her rendition of “Lullabye.”
“And I thought, ‘she can not be playing the Billy Joel ‘Lullabye’ song,” Nancy said. “Garrett was very musical, and there have been songs and music that have been brought to my attention, and I think that, as weird as this is going to sound, I feel my boys all the time around me … music has just been a string, like how Garrett communicates with me. And that song has been a thread.”
It was the coincidence Nancy was waiting for. “I think I’m supposed to do this podcast now,” she messaged to Allison.
In total, Nancy and Allison did a mini-series of six podcasts (called the BBrave series) in January, all revolving around Nancy’s grief and the coincidences that led her to where she is today — happy, healed, and ready to help her community.
“The response that I’ve gotten from other moms that have never, ever shared their grief, seen a counselor, just held it in… I just want those moms to know they are not alone,” Nancy said. “We have to lock arms and we have to stick together.”
Broadening school support
Out of the podcast series came Nancy’s website, nancybabst.com, where she posts information about any events she’s helping to organize or promoting (like Samsarafest), and the scholarship.
She also wants to use the website to break through some of the stigma about suicide, especially the language people use.
But maybe one of the biggest effects the podcast has had so far is on the Auburn School District.
Garrett and J.T. attended Auburn Mountainview, and were still known to students even after they graduated.
When they died in the 2014-2015 school year, it hit the school hard, Principal Terri Herren said – a dozen students told school staff they were in crisis and were transported to local hospitals for evaluation that year.
Herren said Garrett and J.T.’s deaths most likely did not cause the rash of other students in crisis, but the timing probably caused students to come forward with their own issues.
The problem was, Auburn Mountainview had only school counselors.
“We have great counselors, but they don’t have the tools for the things that my kids are dealing with,” Herren said, recalling what she told district Superintendent Alan Spicciati.
Herren spent the next three years trying to convince Spicciati and the school board to approve funding for, at the very least, a full-time mental health counselor at Auburn Mountainview, and at the most, mental-health counselors for all Auburn School District high schools.
She renewed her push for mental health counselors after listening to Nancy’s podcast. Herren’s own nephew died in a car crash when he was 19.
“I listened to the first one, and it was so hard to re-live the story. It’s a hard story to hear and a hard story to tell, because, what a tragedy,” Herren said. “But the podcast, it’s healing. Just to hear Nancy tell it, even though she gets emotional sometimes, it’s such a heart-warming story to hear her love for her kids and her family and what they went through.”
Three years of work paid off last month, when the Auburn School Board and the superintendent approved the funds necessary to contract with four full-time mental health counselors, one at each Auburn high school.
“Even though it’s been slow, I’m just ecstatic that it’s going to happen,” Herren said.
The mental health counselors are expected to fill their positions at the start of next school year.
Herren was also instrumental in helping create the Babst Memorial Fund, pointing Nancy toward Judy Lutton of Auburn High School, who manages community scholarships.
Nancy said the scholarship has raised close to $3,000. The goal is to continue the scholarship on an annual basis, with next year’s goal being $10,000, and into the future, expand the scholarship to students at other Auburn high schools.
The scholarship will be awarded during the school’s Awards Night on June 7. Donations can be dropped off at Auburn High School or mailed to: Judy Lutton, Auburn Community Scholarship Coordinator, 711 E. Main St., Auburn, WA 98002.