“I’ll always grieve…but that doesn’t stop me from still living a life of joy.”
-Tanya, in Rebirth
Tanya Villanueva Tepper is no stranger to grief. In 1995, after a lifelong quest for her birth mother to understand the circumstances of her adoption, she learned the painful truth about her suicide. Three years later her father died after a five-year battle against multiple strokes. And less than two years later, when she was 33, Tanya’s fiancé Sergio, a firefighter, answered the call to the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 and never came home.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Tanya understood the importance of putting a human face to the historical tragedy and appeared on Good Morning America, Fox 5 News NY, Tiempo ABC, NPR, and various international news stations to share Sergio’s story. She was featured in articles for The Toronto Star and Robb Report Motorcycling. In early 2002, Tanya became a founding member of the Fiancés and Domestic Partners of 9.11, helping to create legislation to support them.
Tanya is one of the five participants featured in the Peabody award-winning documentary, Rebirth, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and on Showtime for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Filmed over nearly ten years, Rebirth is a living history of the human spirit coping with disaster. Excerpts of the film are part of the permanent installation, “Rebirth at Ground Zero” in the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. A more comprehensive view of Tanya’s journey is featured in the companion book, Project Rebirth, by Dr. Robin Stern and Courtney Cox.
With the film’s release Tanya was written about in numerous reviews, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter, and People Magazine. She appeared on CBS This Morning, The Talk on CBS and Extra for NBC.
The film’s therapeutic and educational value inspired Tanya to collaborate with the team at Project Rebirth, the non-profit organization created to produce Rebirth. She participated in various panels, including one at the White House for Vice President Joe Biden in 2011, and another at the Vinfen Film Festival at Harvard Medical School in 2012.
In 2013, Tanya brought new meaning to her loss by delivering hope through her workshop, “From Sorrow to Rebirth and Everything In Between: A Time-Lapse Journey of Grief Through the Years” to attendees of Camp Widow, a program of Soaring Spirits International. Tanya was so inspired by the community of support and the healing which takes place there and returned again and again to actively participate during the weekend-long retreats. In 2014, she proudly became a member of the Advisory Board of Soaring Spirits.
Tanya is also working on an initiative to bring Rebirth to high school and college students across the country, and was honored to share her experience and offer a personal connection to the events of September 11th to students at Schreiner University in Texas and E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Connecticut.
Tanya, formerly the owner of Inner Peace gift shop in New York, is writing her memoir and has written articles for the Huffington Post, Siempre Mujer magazine, and South Florida’s Miracle Journeys. She lives in Miami with her husband Ray, and their two young daughters, Mimi and Samantha.
Mimi was two-and-a-half years old when she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s Syndrome. Shortly after Samantha was diagnosed as well. While the initial diagnoses came as a shock, Tanya and Ray took the lessons she learned from her grief journey and immediately sought out peer support and resources from other parents of children with autism. Both girls were placed into intensive therapy programs to address the challenges they faced and benefited tremendously. They are now in schools which are nurturing their growth and both are thriving socially and academically. Mimi wants to be an artist when she grows up and Samantha is a spelling whiz who entertains the family with her zany antics.
They are all living happily “even” after…