Speaker

Sundance Film Festival 2011 Q&A: Rebirth Photo by Eric Tsou.

Sundance Film Festival 2011
Q&A: Rebirth
Photo by Eric Tsou.

I was never much of a public speaker and every time I had to give oral reports in school I would freeze in fear and choke on my nerves. The first time I ever spoke in front of a large audience outside of a school setting was when I delivered the eulogy at my father’s funeral in 1999. The next time I spoke publicly in front of a large audience was when I read our vows and the tribute I wrote for Sergio, in front of a church packed with hundreds of people for his memorial service in June 2002. Both times I was a nervous and emotional wreck, but somehow, I managed to pull it off without breaking down. Because of this, I lost my fear to speak in front of large audiences– forget anti-anxiety meds, delivering a speech in honor of your lost loved one is a sure way to overcome fear. I guess my overwhelming need to convey the message of how meaningful their lives were was enough to quiet my fears of judgement and failure.

With the release of Rebirth, I was called upon to answer questions about my experience on a few panels, including the one following the Sundance premiere, the panel for Showtime’s promotion of the film via the TV Critics Association (TCA), and one for the Vinfen Film Festival at Harvard University. Each time anxiety would still creep in beforehand, but all I had to do was remind myself: “If you could deliver two eulogies, you can do this“.

(L-R) Tim Brown, Tanya Villanueva-Tepper and Director/Producer Jim Whitaker speak during 'Rebirth' panel during the Showtime portion of the 2011 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 4, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (August 3, 2011 - Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

(L-R) Tim Brown, Tanya Villanueva-Tepper and Director/Producer Jim Whitaker speak during ‘Rebirth’ panel during the Showtime portion of the 2011 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 4, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.
(August 3, 2011 – Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

Since the release of Rebirth, I have received some incredible messages from viewers who said seeing my journey through grief into healing provided them with hope and a very personal connection to September 11th. When I received a message from a young widow, it sparked the flame which inspired me to create a workshop for Camp Widow using the 20-minute short film of my journey through Rebirth. I presented at both Camps in 2013, and will present again this year in Tampa and San Diego.

In November 2013, Dr. Carrie Neel West, another widow I met at camp, enlisted me to give a Skype talk to her Family Communications class at Schreiner University about the unexpected stressors I faced in the aftermath of September 11th. And in January 2014, I gave a Skype talk with fellow Rebirth participant Tim Brown, to a class of high school students about our experiences on the day and in the aftermath of September 11th.

All of these speaking experiences have been fulfilling in every way, and I realize, this is what I have been called to do. By speaking I am bringing historical context and personal connection to September 11th and giving meaning to the loss of my beloved Sergio and all who perished because of a senseless act of terrorism. By speaking to the widowed community, and others who are coping with loss or life crises, I truly understand now why I kept on going in those early years of the aftermath- to show up, as proof that we not only can survive the pain and enormous challenges which grief and loss brings, but we can live happily “even” after.

Our team at Project Rebirth is eager to continue to use the film in educating those about September 11th, grief, trauma, and resilience. We are also looking for more ways to help people cope in the aftermath of  loss or disaster. If you are a teacher or part of an organization which would benefit from one of my talks or workshops, feel free to email me at tanya@projectrebirth.org.

Every presentation will be tailored to the unique needs of the audience. Topics for talks and workshops include:

From Sorrow to Rebirth, and Everything In Between: A Time Lapse Journey of Grief Into Healing

What I Learned In The Aftermath of September 11th

The Power of Sharing Your Sacred Journey

Hope For The Best, and Let Go of Expectations

When You’re Struggling to Cope, Peer Support Offers Hope

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