On July 9, 2014, Shelly Schupbach, 34, had planned to spend the whole day in bed.
Her miracle son, Nash Gregory Schupbach — the baby doctors said she would be unable to conceive — would have turned 6 months old that morning. But Nash had died on June 19, while at the babysitter’s, a loss that could not be more cruel because it was preventable. As the medical examiner put it, Nash was “in a unsafe sleep environment and he suffocated.”
And so that Wednesday morning in their Fenton home, Todd Schupbach, 35, kissed his wife before he left for work (it was better for him to keep busy) and Shelly let the tears fall.
Meanwhile Caroline Ogden, Shelly’s sister-in-law, got busy “n’ashing.” She anonymously gifted a complete stranger $100, slipping the crisp bill under the windshield wiper of a car along with a photo of Nash and a note that read: “Have a Nash Day!”
Ever since, on the ninth of every month, friends, relatives and neighbors have performed random acts of kindness with a request to pay it forward, all to honor Nash. From restaurant tabs being paid, to Starbucks lattes, movie tickets, ice cream cones, a gas fill-up to free car washes — even dogs were “nash’d” with free dog treats — Shelly and Todd’s biggest fear — that Nash would be forgotten — has been forever abated.
When that first “Have a Nash Day!” posted on Facebook, Shelly jumped out of bed. “We bought a bunch of bouquets of flowers and at stoplights we’d get out of the car and hand them to people in their cars,” Shelly recalled recently. “It was crazy! But it felt so good.”
On Jan. 9, Nash’s first birthday, more than 450 people gathered in the gym at Fenton Middle School. They brought 350 gifts for kids in need and sang “Happy Birthday” under the glare of TV cameras. “All night long, people kept telling me I never met your baby, but he’s changed the way I look at life,” Shelly said.
To process her own grief, Shelly began writing a blog: whennashsmiled.com. What began as a catharsis now has thousands of followers. The blog is insightful, witty, and at turns, knee-buckling sad and blatantly honest.
As a teen, Shelly was diagnosed with endometriosis and told she likely would not bear children. When she was 23, her father, Dave Caffrey, died of a brain tumor. She and Todd married in 2010; two years later they were thrilled when Shelly became pregnant. She says her father was watching over her when Nash was born on Jan. 9, 2014, her Dad’s birthday.
Life was awesome for the new family — Todd works as a dispatcher for Corrigan Oil and Shelly works as a dental hygienist — until the afternoon of June 19 when Todd called screaming: Nash had stopped breathing at the babysitter’s. Shelly raced to Genesis Hospital to find the doctors still doing CPR on Nash. “I knew they weren’t doing it for Nash; they were doing it for me.” She asked them to stop so she could hold him. “I knew that he was clearly gone, but I felt that God would not let his soul leave until his momma was with him.”
Her feelings toward the babysitter are complicated. “Although I want to shake her, I also know she didn’t purposely do this. I think she just became complacent. She thought I’ve watched kids for over 20 years, done this a billion times. So, I’m upset with her, but then I also think: my God, what must she be feeling?”
It is with that same compassion that Shelly writes about her feelings of guilt, how she hates being a member of the “tragedy club,” i.e. “I used to be known as Shelly, now I’m known as the mom who lost her baby;” meeting the first responder who tried to save Nash, losing it in the grocery store and dropping the F-bomb and how much she wishes fathers who lost babies got equal billing. (The first thing people say to Todd is, “How is Shelly holding up?”)
Four weeks after Nash’s funeral, Shelly and Todd found out they are expecting again. An ultrasound confirmed it’s a boy. All of which explains Kelly’s numerous sightings of rainbows. “I’d never heard this before: That’s what they call a baby born after a loss: a rainbow baby. Because a rainbow always follows a storm.”