News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Local woman approaches grief with creativity

When the Institute of Happiness in Copenhagen sent out a call for submissions last year, Sisters resident Katie Diez was intrigued. People around the world were invited to submit objects that made them feel happy. Winning objects would be displayed at the institute’s new Happiness Museum.

Diez, an occupational therapist who works with children, had a unique object to send: a packet of seeds. Her “Comfort Seeds” project, a collaboration with visual artist Manda Bryn Severin, explores grief and regeneration. Comfort Seeds had already brought happiness to Diez, her young students, and dozens of participants. Why not bring them to the world?

The Institute of Happiness accepted only 18 objects out of hundreds submitted. To be included at all would be an honor. Diez received an email from the museum that her Comfort Seed project was not only accepted—it was the Grand Prize winner. The prize included an all-expense- paid trip to Denmark to tour the Happiness Museum, after COVID.

“I was kind of screaming I was so excited,” Diez said. “And then I got hit with, ‘Wait, is this real?’” Katie messaged the museum and made sure she’d really won. “They said it was real!” The museum launched last summer, with her seeds on display.

“The museum looks really neat — it’s a small place in downtown Copenhagen,” said Diez. “Simple, clean lines, very tastefully done. Someday we’ll get to go.”

Comfort Seeds began with the tiniest impetus: a tomato seed, dried out and clinging to one of her father’s old shirts. He had passed away from cancer ten years before, and Diez was ironing the shirts, intending to make a quilt. The stuck seed caught her eye. She planted it and, astonishingly, grew a healthy tomato plant in her laundry room.

She saved seeds from the plant, and gave some away to people who were grieving. Now Diez replants the seeds every year — together with her students. Many of the kids she works with are in behavior-intervention programs and have experienced trauma and grief in their young lives.

“These kids are all in their own processes of healing,” she said. “There’s something so magical about their little hands planting the seeds. Two years ago, every single plant came up. Like 50 seeds — and every plant germinated. There’s something behind that.”

Diez doesn’t consider herself an artist. A generator of ideas, she enjoys collaborating with Severin, whose colorful, earthy illustrations give Diez’s concepts new dimension. Together they are working on a book and have launched a website,

On the website, visitors of all ages are invited to share memories of loved ones passed. People can download a beautiful page to color and decorate in their memory. Grief stories and resources sit alongside friendly paintings.


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