‘Speaking Grief’ Documentary Asks, ‘What if We Got Better at Grief?’


From WPSU Creative Services: “Speaking Grief explores the transformative experience of losing a family member in a grief-avoidant society. It validates grief as a normal, healthy part of the human experience rather than a problem that needs to be ‘fixed.’ It also addresses the role that support from friends and family plays in a person’s grief experience, offering guidance on how to show up for people in their darkest moments.


There’s something we don’t talk about, even though it affects each of us. All of us. It’s something we carry wherever we go . . . That something is grief . . . But we try so hard to avoid it. We try to shut it out. We mean well, but we don’t know the right words to bring comfort. Far too often, we simply say nothing. We need to get better at grief.

‘I think we have this idea that when something hurts that means there’s something wrong with you. That grief feels bad a lot of the time doesn’t mean that it is bad . . . and it’s part of being alive, it’s part of being human.’ – Megan Devine, psychotherapist & author of It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok

‘Parents tend to assume that their child is grieving in the exact same way they are. But oftentimes children are grieving in a very different way, and that can look like temper tantrums for younger children, it can look like anxiety or even ADHD.’ – Julie Kaplow, PhD, director of the Trauma and Grief Center at Texas Children’s Hospital

‘There’s so much that goes on inside grief, aside from emotions. Things like memory problems. Short-term memory can be completely trashed. Reading comprehension can go sort of sideways & wonky. General forgetfulness. All of those things are really, really normal. (Grief can cause problems with: mental processing, decision-making, emotional regulation, hyperactivity, memory, concentration.) But, because we don’t talk about this stuff, grieving people often think there’s something massively, massively wrong with them.’ – Megan Devine

‘You can almost liken grief to an amputation. When an important part of our self, like a close family member or friend, is dis-membered from us, we re-member the presence of that person, as a phantom presence. And you go through an involuntary process of trying to reattach with somebody that we’ve been amputated from.’ – Ted Rynearson, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington

‘Grief is not pathological, but we know that grief can really take a toll physically on people. Grief can make you feel exhausted. Grief can change your appetite. Grief can also cause inflammation in the body.’ – Julie Kaplow

‘The vast majority of times when we’re giving direct advice, we are way off the mark. Effective support is the attitude of open listening and accepting whatever they’re saying. And not feeling pressure about somehow taking that feeling away from them.’ – Ted Rynearson

‘The problem is that we’re culturally conditioned to instantly cheer somebody up. When we do that, what we’re doing is silencing the person we care about. Your job as a support person isn’t to make somebody feel happy, it’s to make somebody feel heard. Even thought it seems weird to us, letting people tell the truth about their pain is the best way to support someone.’ – Megan Devine

‘Many people will say “let me know what you need.” That’s not helpful. Expecting the person who’s bereaved to be able to identify what they need from you is like giving a non-mathematician a very complex math problem and telling them “figure out the answer and then let me know what it is.”’ – Cristina Chipriano, LCSW, Director of Spanish Programs and Outreach at Bo’s Place

‘Grief rarely involves a clinical consultation. The greatest sources of support are family, close friends and coworkers. Another resource of support are support groups. And those can be very helpful at a certain point.’ – Ted Rynearson

‘Grief is a rite of passage, where to some extent, it changes us. And it’s nothing we ever get over; it’s something we carry forward forever.’ – Ted Rynearson

‘I often get asked about what is the end game around grief and grief support. And the answer is there no end game of it. And to create a real safe environment for all of us to do the work of loving, to do the work of losing. Grief work is about humanity. It’s about the work that we do on being more human. Because everybody you meet is going through something.’ – Alesia K. Alexander, LCSW, CT, Grief, Loss, and Inclusion Consultant

What if things could be different, better? What would happen if we could speak the truth about our pain, and hear the truth about other people’s pain? What if instead of avoiding grief we acknowledged it, validated it? If instead of shutting grief out, we made space for it? What would it look like if our actions matched our intentions? If we learned how to offer meaningful support? What if we got better at grief?”


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  1. What if we got better at grief?

    What if we got better at dropping the collective compulsion to get “better” at anything collectively and instead leave defining better to the unique individual whose grief it happens to be?

    I was tempted to squirrel-in a comment on anorexia in the “excercise is better than antidepressants for depression” but I think there is a similarity here. In the haste to do away with prescriptions for “what’s wrong” there has grown an ease around proclaiming that there is a collective pressure to attend to what’s wrong, when really the individual ought to be front and centre in saying whether something is wrong, and what that might be, and how best to heal from it, if change is wanted at all. Some individuals may like new ways of regarding grief, some may prefer old traditional ways of regarding grief.

    I learned today that my uncle has just died. I recall my sister’s death with remembering something she said in the weeks before it. I was sitting in her livingroom trying to say words of comfort when she suddenly sat up imperiously and archly said…

    “This is MY DEATH and I will do it MY way”.

    This is MY grief and I will do it MY way.

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