Family outside in field "Speaking Grief"

Speaking Grief event helps community members get better at grief

A free November virtual film and community discussion event offered through Penn State Mont Alto is meant to help people communicate in one of the most difficult languages: grief.

The 2 p.m. “Speaking Grief” event on Thursday, Nov. 19, is a collaboration between Penn State Mont Alto and the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation, which provides educational and support programs for those who are grieving the death of a loved one. 

An online screening of the documentary “Speaking Grief,” produced by WPSU Penn State, will be followed by a virtual panel discussion via Zoom. WPSU is a PBS and NPR member station, and a service of Penn State Outreach, a source for news, information and education.

Panelists include:

  • Julie Ann Guistwite, Ph.D., L.S.W., part-time faculty member in the sociology and human development and family studies departments at Penn State Mont Alto
  • Sharon Heath, R.N, CCRN, CHPN, palliative care nurse coordinator at Inspira Medical Center, Mullica Hill, New Jersey
  • Darlene Pasi, campus counselor at Penn State Mont Alto
  • Anne Devney, Ed.D., associate teaching professor in the Baccalaureate Nursing program at Penn State Mont Alto 
  • Marcie Taylor, co-founder of the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation

The discussion will be moderated by Jacob Sawyer, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Penn State Mont Alto.

“Speaking Grief” shares diverse representations of bereavement and illustrates that grief is a universal, yet individual experience. Through vignettes from everyday people and interviews with experts, the nearly hourlong documentary addresses issues such as why people avoid those who are grieving; the need for support long after the frenzied aftermath of a death; and ways that friends and other family members can make survivors feel like their myriad feelings are being heard.

The documentary originally aired in August on National Grief Awareness Day. The Mont Alto event is taking place on Children's Grief Awareness Day, which aims to bring attention to the fact that support can make a significant difference in the life of a grieving child.

Marcie Taylor knows from experience how important a helping network can be. Her 3-year-old son, Drew, died in a June 2006 auto accident while the family was vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Looking for ways to cope and heal, Taylor and her family attended a grief support program at Highmark Caring Place in Lemoyne, Pa., in 2007, and in 2008 founded the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation, which provides grief programming for families near their hometown of Shippensburg, Pa.

“Grief affects all of us,” said Taylor. “The fact is that, as humans, we have a 100% mortality rate. However, we don’t have grief education in our schools, and, for most people, grief is not a comfortable topic to discuss. Sadly, this silence does not allow us to learn positive coping skills if we are grieving or how to offer help and support to those who are grieving.”

Guistwite hopes the program will help society stop avoiding talk of death and grief and start understanding the process and feel compassion toward the bereaved.

“We will talk about the birth of a baby, but we won’t talk about the death of a family member,” Guistwite said.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what is “normal” in the grieving process, but there is no cookie-cutter way to go about it, Guistwite said. “It’s a very individualistic process.”

Taylor said the broadcast also guides those wishing to support those who are in mourning.

“To truly live ‘in community’ with each other, we need to be able to positively support and encourage each other,” Taylor said. “I hope that the ‘Speaking Grief’ documentary and panel discussion provide important information so that everyone can learn how to process grief in a positive and healing manner, and how to support those who are grieving in a caring and compassionate way.”

The Nov. 19 program - which is expected to wrap up by 4 p.m. - is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required by going to

To view the documentary, go to