WPSU’s Speaking Grief created with $585,000 grant from New York Life Foundation

January 27, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When someone dies, a gap is created in the lives of those who loved that person, especially when he or she is an immediate family member. The death can create a lonely and broken space, and often people don’t know how to support those who are grieving. A charitable grant of $585,000 from the New York Life Foundation to WPSU Penn State will be used to help change that by opening a dialogue in communities through the creation of The Speaking Grief Project — a multiplatform project that will be used to elevate a national conversation around grief by creating a space for the journey toward recovery.

Maria Collins, vice president of New York Life Foundation, said childhood bereavement has been its philanthropic focus for more than a decade.

“WPSU Penn State is an award-winning leader in documentary production and known for telling complex stories that address significant societal issues in accessible and compassionate ways,” Collins said. “Together we hope to raise awareness of childhood bereavement by offering a candid look at the grieving process by elevating the conversation about grief to a national audience through a compelling and relatable visual experience.”

WPSU’s “Speaking Grief” documentary will walk participants through a journey of grief, seen through the experiences of several families in Houston, Texas; Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Collins, New York; and Philadelphia, Collegeville and Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Carmichael Khan and his daughter, Asia, are part of one of those families. The Khans share their story about life after the sudden loss of their wife and mother, Rose. Asia was 14 at the time, and Carmichael said he felt broken and was suddenly faced with raising his daughter on his own. Bo’s Place, a bereavement center offering free grief support in Houston, played a role in the Khans’ healing process.  

“I had a new role; I had to be mom and dad. I wanted Asia’s life to be stable, to not have to deal with a post-trauma event — to be able to maintain without distress. I felt my heart was broken into by this sudden loss of Rose, the loss of expectations about the future,” Khan said. “Recovery is a journey, you are the walking wounded, but there is always hope. I believe I would not be where I am if it were not for the people who assisted me through it. I want to use my experience to make a conscious choice to help others.”

Cristina Chipriano, director of Spanish Programs and Outreach at Bo’s Place, said grief could be a lonely journey — often taken one day and one hour at a time. She said she hopes that through WPSU’s Speaking Grief Project, grief will lose its taboo.

“Acknowledging that grief is a life-long journey, we work with our families to establish ways to find connection with their person who died, while establishing a new normal. For parents, modeling a healthy grief process is the most important thing you can do for your bereaved child,” Chipriano said. “We are glad the Speaking Grief Project will provide a way for people to become more informed and aware of how to support those who have experienced the death of a loved one. It is also our hope that through this initiative, we can all work to ensure that no child, no adult, should ever have to grieve alone.”

Lindsey Whissel Fenton, senior producer/director at WPSU Penn State, is producing and directing the documentary — the centerpiece of WPSU’s multiplatform project that will also feature a website, grief support resources, and community events.

“We want to start a national conversation about grief. It’s perhaps the only truly universal human experience but is difficult to talk about and we often struggle in our efforts to offer people meaningful support,” Fenton said. “The goal of this project is to present content that not only validates the griever’s experience, but also builds understanding about what grief is — and isn’t — and how we can get better at showing up for people as they grieve.”

Because of the philanthropic support from New York Life Foundation, WPSU is offering competitive grants for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) member stations and community organizations to host a screening event of WPSU’s “Speaking Grief” and for National Public Radio (NPR) stations to produce relevant local stories. Submissions are due by noon EST on March 9, 2020.

WPSU’s “Speaking Grief” documentary will begin broadcasting nationwide on PBS member stations in May.

For more information, visit The Speaking Grief Project to submit a grant proposal, watch the trailer, sign up for newsletter updates and follow the launch of the project.

WPSU, an outreach service of Penn State, is the University’s PBS and NPR public broadcasting licensee.

A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence

This charitable grant from the New York Life Foundation will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and affecting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

  • WPSU's Speaking Grief Project, Rose and Asia Khan

    Rose Upshaw and Asia Khan.

    IMAGE: Carmichael Khan
  • WPSU's Speaking Grief Project, Carmichael Khan

    During the filming of the "Speaking Grief" documentary, Carmichael Khan shared how his love of running helped him work through his grief.

    IMAGE: WPSU Penn State
  • Speaking Grief Project-Asia Khan and her dog

    Asia Khan offered advice to people who are mourning, "Rise up or it will consume you. Stop looking in the mirror and go outside and cultivate a hobby, meet new people to help with grief."

    IMAGE: WPSU Penn State
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Last Updated January 27, 2020