WPSU initiative on grief makes impact, continues reach after first year

August 26, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — BettyJo Maloney relives the day often, the day when her world changed forever.

“I was downstairs and heard my mom yelling for help,” said Maloney, of Cedar Hills, Utah. “My dad was in his chair, and his eyes were open. We called 9-1-1 and performed CPR, but his heart stopped at the house.”

Four days later, on May 17, 2018, Maloney and her family decided to stop the machines that were keeping her father, Brent, alive. Since that time, Maloney has grieved the loss of her father. She says it was hard to understand her feelings until seeing a documentary from public media station WPSU Penn State that shines a personal light on grief.

“The documentary made me feel like I was normal for the anger and sadness I felt, even after two years,” she said. “It was such a realistic approach to grief, seeing other people going through the same thing as me. It validated my feelings.”

WPSU’s “Speaking Grief” explores the reality of grief and offers guidance on how people can offer meaningful support to those who are grieving. This August marks the one-year anniversary of the documentary’s public release through the Speaking Grief website.  

Trailer for WPSU's "Speaking Grief"

Watch the trailer for WPSU's documentary, "Speaking Grief," which aims at creating a more grief-aware society by validating the experiences of grievers and helping guide those who wish to support them. 

WPSU Penn State

Since its debut, the documentary has aired on more than 87% of public media stations nationally, including in at least 36 states and cities like Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“Speaking Grief,” which features candid interviews with families across the country, won an Outstanding Documentary Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and received three Mid-Atlantic Emmy award nominations in 2021.

“Speaking Grief” also has been part of virtual screenings for some of the leading bereavement organizations in the country, including The National Alliance for Children's Grief; the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA) Education Foundation, the International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference; and Spiritual Directors International.

Meghan Riordan Jarvis, a trauma therapist in Washington, D.C., says the way the documentary shows other people experiencing grief makes it more relatable, and the Speaking Grief initiative can have an even greater impact on people and communities now due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Part of what’s really beautiful of ‘Speaking Grief’ is that it has deliberate representations of loss from people of different cultures,” she said. “It's personal stories from strangers, the story of someone you're never going to meet. They're inviting you in just to see it and not fix. That’s what makes it so powerful.”

Along with the documentary, the Speaking Grief initiative website includes learning resources for those who are trying to support a grieving person and those who are grieving, as well as a diverse array of stories of grief and additional interviews with professionals working in the grief field. Individuals from 168 countries have accessed the initiative’s resources on the website.

The initiative has been featured in publications, podcasts and web series across the country, which shows its far-reaching impact, especially during unprecedented times, says WPSU senior producer Lindsey Whissel Fenton, who produced, directed and wrote the documentary.

“We have been blown away by the positive response for ‘Speaking Grief,’ as well as the sustained engagement around this initiative,” she said. “Requests to share our web resources and videos continue to flow in more than a year after its launch, and we love that it is being used by both the professional grief community and general public.”

WPSU, which is a Penn State Outreach service, collaborated with The New York Life Foundation to make Speaking Grief a reality. The New York Life Foundation invests in the bereavement field by supporting organizations and initiatives that increase awareness and access to grief services, in addition to providing free bereavement resources.

Maria Collins, vice president of the New York Life Foundation, says it has found a partner in WPSU that helps advance the important work being done in the field.

“For more than a decade, New York Life and its foundation have invested in supporting resources to promote a more grief sensitive society. Our collaboration with the WPSU initiative continues this effort by shedding light on a subject that is rarely spoken about by validating the experience of grievers,” she said. “COVID-19 has made it apparent that grief support is needed, yet not always available, and that we need to do a better job of addressing and normalizing grief.”

Fenton says the project team has developed and is currently beta testing a mobile app that coaches grief supporters, and there are plans to expand the initiative’s online and social media resources, create a companion initiative for younger audiences, host more virtual events and publicly launch the app, all of which focuses on Speaking Grief’s mission to create a more grief-aware society.

Maloney says “Speaking Grief” has also helped those around her better understand her journey and how the grieving process differs from person to person.

“Grief just changes you; you don’t know who you are now,” she said. “Now that this documentary has been released, those who stayed with me through this journey and have watched it have a better understanding of why the me I was before is not the me I am today.”

Visit the Speaking Grief website to watch the documentary and learn more about the initiative.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 08, 2021