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Nudges, Yeses, and Italy

You know those moments when it feels like something (or someone) is invisibly nudging you in a certain direction? Those moments when you know something life-changing is about to happen, even though you aren’t completely sure how? Or those moments when you look back and think, wow, two weeks ago I had no idea whatsoever that this would be happening and now…….

These past two weeks I’ve experienced a series of nudges that have led me to do something that is incredibly far out of my comfort zone, yet is very dear and close to my heart, spiritually as well as genetically. Two Tuesdays ago, I sat at my women’s group, Embrace, and we discussed those moments. When it feels like you need to say YES, even if it’s hard or uncomfortable. Yes moments. My whole mindset recently has been to stay open, to allow things to come to me that I never would have planned, and to try new and different things, even if it’s difficult.

Two Wednesdays ago, I was reading through some posts in a private group I belong to for grieving parents. Someone posted a link to a yoga and writing retreat in Italy. My fingers immediately clicked and I felt this might be one of those moments. Reading through the description of the trip, I knew it was something I would love to do. Someday. And yet… seemed like there had been many signs, or nudges, or somethings pointing to such a trip lately. I had been reading about and researching a few retreats recently. Chris and I even discussed a few seriously, but the timing was never right and neither were the finances. Maybe in a few years for my 40th birthday, we said. Some were yoga retreats. Some were for writers. This retreat was for both, the two things that have unequivocally helped me process my grief in the healthiest way these past three years. This was definitely a nudge moment.

And just last fall, I had spent some time talking to my grandmother about her mother, Rose (my middle name). She told me about Rose’s journey from Italy to marry a miner she had never met in Roundup, Montana at age 18. I was fascinated. I knew bits and pieces of the story, but this time my grandmother told me about a child that Rose lost. She also told me that Rose once said she knew she’d never see Italy again and that it broke her heart. This stuck with me. After researching this retreat’s location, I discovered that it is within hours of Great-Grandma Rose’s village. Nudge, Nudge.

I crunched the numbers. I was sure there was no way we would be able to make it work. I returned to the original post in my grieving parents support group and saw information there about a scholarship. The woman posting, Julia, had included her story. A story that is full of yes moments, right alongside the kind of utter heartbreak that I know so well. A story that I sat and read with awe and with tears. Julia had once attended class led by Jennifer Pastiloff, the yoga instructor & writer that runs this retreat. When she was told at 40 weeks pregnant that her son had died within her, Julia wrote Jennifer a note. Something told Julia that Jennifer was the right person to contact on that day. Jennifer replied, shared Julia’s story on Facebook, and her many followers donated enough money overnight to send Julia to the Italy retreat last fall. During the retreat, they decided they would start a scholarship fund in Julia’s son’s name, the Aleksander Fund. As I was reading this beautiful story, I felt that nudge again. I felt connected to this story. Perhaps because I know the pain of stillbirth, perhaps because I too lost a son. I followed Julia’s lead, stepping way, way out of my comfort zone and I emailed Jennifer. She replied within hours, offering me enough money to make this retreat a reality. I was floored. I was nudged so hard that I actually almost hit the floor.

You can read Julia’s inspiring story here.

Jennifer Pastiloff had no idea who I was up until that day, but I knew her. I started following her when she re-posted my dear friend Liv’s essay on her Facebook page last fall. I sat in my office sweating about flying to Italy, alone, trying to push aside my many fears of travel. Liv. I emailed her telling her about this trip. I didn’t ask anything of her, I just wrote.

I met Liv exactly three years ago this week. It was one of those meetings where it was pleasant and nice, but where I had absolutely no idea what role this new person would play in my life. I met Liv two days before we received Beau’s diagnosis. She’s never known the “before” version of Tara. A few weeks later, she came upon me at the town rec center where our kids were doing their swimming lessons. I was sitting there reading a very sad story on my phone and crying. Tears were coming down my face and I remember thinking that I didn’t care at all who saw me. I looked up and there was Liv. She stood me up and gave me a huge hug. She walked me over to a quiet corner. She asked me if I’d ever tried writing to deal with my fears and emotions. I sheepishly told her I’d sort of started to, I had a little blog, and she told me to continue. Write, she said. Write. She’s been telling me to do so ever since.

Three months later I sat on Liv’s couch eating popcorn and watching The Bachelor, feeling my baby move for the very last time. The next morning, he was gone. Since then, Liv has been the kind of friend that is not afraid of my tears. She likes to ask me out of the blue how my grief is, acknowledging grief as an ever-present, ever-evolving part of me. She is always genuinely interested in my answer.

Liv inspired me with her bravery when her extremely vulnerable and raw essay was published last fall in Brain, Child magazine. The only reason I ever submitted anything beyond my own sad blog was because of her. When Liv told me she was coming with me to Italy, I knew it was right. Three years ago I didn’t know her at all and now we were planning a trip to Europe together. Life continues to amaze me, and to nudge me.

I accepted Jennifer’s generous offer, in Aleksander’s name.

Jennifer added us to a private Facebook group with the other attendees. I was scrolling through it and came upon another recipient of the Aleksander Fund and a little of her story. This recipient also lost a son, after a horrific accident. He too had Down syndrome. The nudges, the yes moments, the signs, whatever they are, continue.

So here I am now, three years to the day that we found out Beau would have Down syndrome and life forever changed. And I’m going to Italy. To TUSCANY, in June. I don’t know what I will learn on this journey, but so far I am learning to listen to those nudges and to keep my heart open to the yeses. I never thought I could experience life fully again after losing Beau. But as I told Jennifer in my email, when you hold your child, knowing he will never have the chance to experience an adventure such as this, your perspective forever changes. I’m learning life’s surprises aren’t always bad, as I once whole-heartedly believed. I’m learning once again how supportive my husband is as he has encouraged me to do this. I’m going to Italy (to Tuscany!!!), for 12 days. I will get to see my Great-grandmother Rose’s homeland, as I continue to grieve. Grieve as she did. And hopefully heal a little more, day by day. Italy. June. Yoga. Writing. Me. Liv. Live.

Read more about this extraordinary retreat here and I will have much more to share along the way.

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