According to the Census Bureau, at least 15% of people under the age of 35 have lost a parent. That is what happened to Oregon native Katie Diez. For ten years, she suffered from grief over her father, until she found solace in the most unlikely place: her dad’s shirts.
When Diez found dried seeds in her father’s shirt pockets, her life changed for the better. Those seeds sprouted into tomatoes, which grew into a therapy, which blossomed into an international sensation. Learn the heartwarming story of Katie Diez and her foundation, Comfort Seeds.
Katie Diez Has A Lot Of Hope, But She Didn’t Always
Katie Diez has a talent for finding happiness amidst suffering. She is a pediatric occupational therapist, the co-founder of Comfort Seeds, writer of a children’s book, and is planning a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. When she spoke to The Nugget Newspaper, she said, “My cup is completely full.”
But Diez didn’t always feel this way. The mother and Oregon resident had a hard life for ten years before she finally found a way to turn it around.
A Family Death Pulverized Her Life
After a long battle with cancer, Diez’s father passed away in 2006. The loss wrecked Diez. She did not know how to process it, and she found herself clinging to his old belongings. In particular, Diez kept her father’s button-up shirts which he always wore.
Diez and her siblings each inherited some of her father’s belongings, and they moved on with their lives. But she had no idea what the shirts would give her ten years in the future.
Over The Years, His Shirts Haunted Her
For years, Diez carried around her father’s shirts. She transported them from home to home in her resident state of Oregon. Meanwhile, her daughter grew into a beautiful teenager and Diez’s life moved forward.
But still, she could not part with the shirts. Diez had no idea what to do with them, so she tucked them away in the recesses of her closet. But she couldn’t keep them there forever; what would she do with her father’s old shirts?
Planning An Anniversary Gift
In 2016, Diez honored the ten-year anniversary of her father’s passing. She finally pulled out her father’s button-up shirts and reevaluated what to do with them. That’s when she got an idea: she would transform the shirts into a quilt to give to her mother and siblings.
It was a brilliant plan! The problem? Diez had no idea how to make a quilt. But that didn’t deter her. “I jump into projects when I decide I want to do something, and I figure it out,” she said.
Unlocking Memories Through Ironing
Not only did Diez have to learn how to quilt, but she also had to clean the shirts. Most of them had been in storage for a decade, and they were horribly wrinkled. “My dad wasn’t very good at washing clothes,” Diez joked.
For the first time in years, Diez spent a lot of time with the shirts by ironing them. It became a meditative practice for her. The hot iron brought up smells of her father that unlocked so many memories.
Each Shirt Unlocked A Gift
As Diez ironed the shirts, she found little trinkets hidden within the folds. One pocket held a sticker that Diez’s daughter had given to her grandfather. She also discovered bits of food and clumps of pocket lint.
In one shirt, she found a dried plant seed. Like all the other trinkets, she flicked it off and continued working. But the thought of this seed haunted Diez. She regretted throwing it away, and thought that she could have planted it.
Making The Quilt Was An Emotional Struggle
Throughout her quilt-making process, Diez kept a journal of her thoughts and feelings. She wrote about how emotional it was to cut up her father’s shirts. “I find that I feel guilty when I don’t use every scrap of fabric,” she wrote.
She compared using the quilts to consuming every part of a hunted animal. “Planning the cuts feels like I’m field-dressing a deer, which is ironic–Dad was a hunter.” Despite this, she continued to make the quilt.
With More Seeds, She Had One More Chance
Diez’s biggest regret was throwing away the seed she had found in one of her father’s shirts. But as she continued with the quilt, a miracle happened. She found another seed!
“I had discarded the first one and regretted not trying to sprout it,” Diez wrote in her journal. “I feel like I won the lottery finding ONE MORE seed! I’m soaking it and will try to plant it.” That’s exactly what she did.
She Worked Hard To Grow These Plants
With some research, Diez discovered that it was a tomato seed. She soaked it and brought it back to life. A few days after she put it in the soil, a tiny shoot poked through the dirt. Diez added fertilizer and continued to water it.
With some more research on growing tomatoes, Diez bought a grow light from the hardware store. She kept the tomato plant in her laundry room and tended to it every day.
It Was Brought To Life!
Within two months, it grew into an impressive plant. “I’ve been nurturing it for the past two months and it’s now four feet tall and growing tomatoes,” she recorded. “And it was in a box stuck to a shirt for 10 years.”
Eventually, the tomato grew to be ten feet tall! Diez and her daughter moved the plant outside and picked fresh tomatoes yearly. The seed that she initially flicked away ended up transforming her life.
Gardening Connected Diez To Her Father
Growing the tomato plant connected Diez to her late father. Not only did she find the seeds in his shirt, but he was an avid gardener himself. “My dad was a gardener, and it just had meaning for me to see that,” Diez later said.
Meanwhile, her quilt was going well. On Christmas 2016, Diez presented the gift to her family. Her mother and siblings loved the quilt and cherished the memory of her father. However, they did not learn about the plant.
Oddly, She Didn’t Tell Her Family About The Seeds
Although Diez spent a lot of time nurturing her tomato plant, she did not tell her family that she found the seeds in her father’s shirts. Her siblings and mother helped her gardening by setting up a grow light. But they did not understand the significance.
“They’re kind of used to me doing weird stuff, so they didn’t ask too many questions,” Diez said. Besides, she had dabbled in gardening with her father before. Now, she was expanding her craft.
How A Single Plant Became Several
Her father’s tomato plant inspired Diez to become a seed saver. She fermented, dried, and stored several different vegetable seeds. Her backyard became a garden with many beautiful crops.
Since Diez had many extra seeds, she decided to share the love. “It’s just a neat story that we thought we would share,” she said. Plus, gardening gives grieving people a project. It creates life during a time where people feel consumed by death.
Sharing The Hobby With Other Grieving Loved Ones
Diez began spreading the word about her gardening hobby. She gave seeds to friends and family who had lost loved ones. She would package them with a little note that included her father’s story.
Diez transformed a seed from her father’s shirt into an aid for grief. Her father’s memory lives on in all of the people she has helped through gardening. Her friends cherished the seeds! Since she now felt so fulfilled, Diez decided to expand this idea further.
Sharing The Love With Children
Diez’s husband is also a therapist. Every summer, he works with children through a therapeutic summer camp. In 2017, Diez decided to join her husband’s camp and share her planting hobby.
The kids loved planting seeds! They felt accomplished when they watched their plants grow, and gardening helped them process traumatic experiences. For the first time, Diez witnessed first-hand how helpful gardening can be. Thanks to her dad, she knew that she had found her life’s calling.
Creating Comfort Seeds
Diez formalized her seed-sharing into a business called Comfort Seeds. The organization aims to help people through grief by introducing gardening. According to Diez, it taps into the archetypal themes of death and regeneration.
“It’s something that makes you want to put your hands in the soil and figure out a new way to relate to the world,” Diez said. Every year, she visits kids at her husband’s camp to share Comfort Seeds and teach them the ins and outs of gardening.
A Children’s Book Is In The Works
Not only does Diez run Comfort Seeds, but she also has a children’s book in the works. She recently reached out to Oregon-based illustrator Manda Severin, who is also a former psychologist. Together, the two are working on a Comfort Seeds book.
The book will include a decorated packet of seeds and instructions about how to grow them. Diez hopes that the book will help children work through grief and other traumatic experiences. As of early 2021, it’s still a work in progress.
Even Severin Benefits From Comfort Seeds
Illustrator Manda Severin truly believes in Comfort Seeds. She is creating illustrations of gardens and forests that line her studio, essentially growing her own Comfort Seeds. Even during the dangerous Oregon fires, she held out hope for the book.
“I’ve got to believe in this kind of beauty that can transcend great loss,” Severin said. She believes in the concepts of life and regeneration that stem from Comfort Seeds, which is why she took on Diez’s project.
They Worked Through Oregon’s Wildfires
While Diez and Severin were working on the children’s books, raging wildfires spread through Oregon. In September 2020, Diez was stuck in her home as smoke filled the air. “I keep looking out the window hoping that the smoke will start to clear,” she said.
However, both women kept faith that Oregon would recover. The themes of Comfort Seeds say that life will spring from death. Severin said that even though the forest burned down, “things will grow again.”
Comfort Seeds Gained National Attention
Comfort Seeds gained nationwide attention when it hit social media. Diez created an Instagram and Facebook page that explained the mission statement of Comfort Seeds. She also shares peoples’ stories about how gardening helped them.
Word of Comfort Seeds soon spread to the local newspaper, The Nugget Newspaper, and larger journals such as Atlas Obscura. People from all around the world felt inspired by Diez’s mission. It even caught the attention of psychologists from other countries.
It Caught The Eye Of An International Museum
Diez’s passion project caught the attention of Onor Hanreck Wilkinson, a researcher at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. Since 2013, the Happiness Institute has researched how peoples’ happiness is affected by social media, careers, COVID-19, and other factors.
“Many people coming to our office probably think it’s a crazy utopia where we have puppies and ice cream,” Dr. Wilkinson said. Although they do not provide puppies, they perform research on what makes people happy.
Joyful Enough For The Happiness Museum
In July 2020, the Happiness Research Institute opened the Happiness Museum. Researchers share information about happiness and why many believe that Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world.
When the Museum opened, researchers asked for donations of objects that give their owners joy. They received hundreds of submissions. Diez came across this call for donations and sent some of her Comfort Seeds. She also told the researchers about how her seeds have helped children through therapy.
An Entire Museum Exhibit On Comfort Seeds
Wilkinson and his colleagues were incredibly touched by Diez’s seeds. “We thought it was so touching,” Wilkinson said. Not only did they make Diez’s seeds one of the 18 displayed donations, but they also offered her a permanent exhibit.
The Happiness Museum will host an exhibit dedicated solely to Comfort Seeds. Diez plans to visit Copenhagen to set up the exhibit herself. Of course, she has to wait for the lockdown to lift before she travels across the world.
Comfort Seeds Will Only Grow From Here
With a museum exhibit and a children’s book on the way, Comfort Seeds is rapidly expanding. Diez has helped hundreds of people work through grief and traumatic events, and that’s all thanks to her father’s shirts.
“A lot of fun, magical things have come forth from that little seed stuck to my dad’s shirt for 10 years,” Diez said. She now plans a trip to the Happiness Museum and waits for the world to calm down so she can plant Comfort Seeds.
The Ornament Caught Her Eye
This is Priscilla Bailey, a woman who was living in Plymouth, Massachusetts when she found an ornament that caught her eye at a local thrift store. She noticed that the ornament was being sold for the low, low price of two American dollars. Priscilla thought that was a pretty good deal, so she decided to buy the ornament right there and then.
It wasn’t until she got it home that she noticed that there was something unusual about it.
Something Strange Inside
Priscilla had been shopping at that thrift store before. She liked thrift shopping because she would almost always find unique, beautiful items for a fraction of the price that they would be in a normal retail store. She would often pop into thrift stores in her area whenever she was out and about running errands.
Even though Priscilla was a veteran thrift shopper, she had no idea that she had stumbled across something really special.
How She Found Her Ornament
The ornament that Priscilla bought was just sitting on a thrift store shelf alongside other blown glass items that were for sale. Priscilla really likes glass ornaments and this particular ornament was in her favorite color— blue.
When Priscilla picked up the item, she noticed the price tag stuck to the bottom of it that indicated that the ornament would only cost her $2. Priscilla jumped at the chance to own the gorgeous ornament for such a low price.
Was The Price Too Low?
Thrift stores are known to have very good prices, but $2 for a blown glass ornament seems like a very low price even for a thrift store. What was the catch? Priscilla inspected the ornament to see if there was anything wrong with it, but as far as she could tell, it seemed perfectly fine.
It also had quite a bit of weight to it, made with care and plenty of glass so it wasn’t brittle or extremely fragile.
Taking Her Treasure Home
When Priscilla got home with her new ornament, she unwrapped her found treasure and started to examine it more closely.
Taking a closer look at the metalwork, Priscilla wondered if the design was angels or something else. There must be a story to this piece. All previously owned items come with such great stories. Priscilla held the item in hands, flipped it around, and admired the blue glass. it really was a beautiful and enchanting piece.
Heavier Than She Expected
While Priscilla was holding the ornament in her hands, she noticed that it was heavier than she expected it to be. She was no ornament expert, but she had held a fair amount of glass ornaments in her life. She could tell that this particular ornament had a bit more weight to it.
Priscilla ignored the surprising heaviness of the ornament fo the time being and decided to display her find in her kitchen. It wasn’t until later, when her daughter came over, that she realized she had overlooked an important detail.
Her Daughter’s Discovery
This is a photo of Priscilla’s daughter, Kat. Kat also loved blown glass ornaments, so she was excited when her mother showed her the ornament she had found at the thrift store. Kat loved blown glass so much that she dreamed of opening her own blown glass store in Massachusetts.
Priscilla didn’t mention the strange weight of the ornament to Kat, but even so, Kat noticed that there was something strange about this particular glass ornament.
What Was Different About It?
Kat thought that the heart-shaped ornament was absolutely beautiful. She gently took the ornament off the wall to take a closer look. She too, noticed that it was heavier than she expected. She mentioned this observation to her mother, who admitted that she also thought that the ornament was abnormally heavy.
Kat had an idea. She went to find a flashlight so that she could see if there was anything inside the ornament. That light would soon reveal something incredible.
What Was Inside?
Priscilla thought that using a flashlight to look inside of the ornament was an excellent idea. When they first shone the flashlight through the ornament, they didn’t see anything unusual, but then, they saw that there was something inside the ornament that was moving around.
Using the light, Priscilla and Kat discovered that there were actually two secret compartments inside the ornament. Something was moving in the smaller compartment. Priscilla desperately wanted to know what was inside.
Reaching Out For Help
Priscilla and Kat decided that they needed an expert to help them get to the bottom of this mystery. Priscilla decided to call the local authorities and let them inspect her item. Maybe whatever was inside was dangerous or illegal.
Priscilla also called the Boston Globe and invited news reporters over to her house to see what they thought about the mysterious two-dollar thrift store ornament. Even though Priscilla didn’t know what was inside the ornament yet, she had a feeling it was going to be interesting.
Not An Ordinary Ornament
The news reporters showed up at Priscilla’s house first, and she told them everything that she knew about it. Sitting around her kitchen table, Priscilla told the reporters, “Right now, it’s hanging up there when I do my dishes. I sometimes stare at it.”
Not knowing what to expect, the reporters were just as intrigued as Priscilla when she handed over the ornament for them to inspect themselves. It was immediately clear that this held much more meaning than a simple Christmas tree ornament.
Something Powdery, Perhaps?
Then, Priscilla and Kat showed the reporters how they noticed that there were two hidden compartments inside of the glass ornament. As they had before, Priscilla held up the ornament while Kat shined a light on it, revealing the contents inside.
Kat explained to the reporters what she thought it was. “I said to her, ‘it looks like it’s ashes, Mom.'” But even if it were, the mystery remains as to whose they were, and how they ended up at a thrift store.
What If It Was Ashes?
There was no doubt that the ornament was beautiful. And if they contained ashes inside, it would make sense why it was so carefully made with stunning detail. But the two women had also been shaking the ornament, not knowing it was ashes inside.
They wondered if they were disrespecting the ashes, or even if she wanted this in her home if they were in fact ashes of someone’s relative.
What To Do
At first, she was weirded out by the concept that she had someone else’s ashes in her home, and that she had been handling the ornament that contained them so many times. That was a bit unsettling.
But thinking about it further, she had empathy for the person whose ashes they were, and the family members that would want to hold onto such a precious item. How did it end up at the thrift store? Priscilla knew that she had to do something about it.
Giving It Back To Its Rightful Owner
Priscilla decided that she would do whatever she could in order to find the proper person to hand off the ornament to. She was hoping that the news media could help her find the relatives who mistakenly gave the item away to the thrift store. If not, she had to find another way.
She told the reporters, “It’s beautiful. It must have a story. So that’s my goal: to find out where and who this belongs to.” She had also notified the police, but still, she didn’t feel like she was any closer to finding any answers.
Getting The Word Out
After the news media left her Plymouth home, Priscilla and Kat decided that they should hold onto the glass ornament until they figured out who to return it to. They hoped that the news story would pick up steam, and someone would know who to return it to.
The women also had another idea: share the story on Facebook and see if they could reach anyone who might know something through social media.
Using Social Media
Along with a close-up photo of the blue glass ornament, Kat shared the story of how she and her mother ended up with it. She shared, “It breaks my heart that this was tossed away and just sitting on a shelf at Savers for $2.”
She asked for anyone who might know anything about it to get a hold of her so that the mother and daughter could properly return it in safe care.
Another Special Ornament
Priscilla had also contacted the store she purchased it from, Savers, and let them know of her find. The store’s manager said that the majority of their donations were from residents in the area, so there was a good chance whoever donated the ornament lived around Plymouth.
That’s when a local woman named Connie Whiteman Slate commented on Kat’s post, “Please let me know what you find out as I have one also. Found mine at a thrift shop too! It’s heavy in weight.”
Could There Be Two?
The conversation on the Facebook post continued, as someone else commented that she had one too. A woman replied that she had found a similar ornament at a thrift store, but in the Pacific Northwest. She described it, “Mine was iridescent and heart-shaped like this one, but much less ornament and more suncatcher-like.”
Then, she included some information about the contents of the ornament that the women hadn’t heard before. She said, “It was made from the ash of Mt. Saint Helen.”
Theories Started To Emerge
The woman who knew the origins of the ashes within her ornament replied back, “This could also explain what appears to be ashes enclosed within… could be a possibility.”
All this time, Priscilla and Kat believed that the ornament held a person’s ashes like an urn. They hadn’t considered the possibility that the ashes originated from something else. The two women didn’t receive a confirmed answer, but with the Facebook post still going viral, there’s a chance the truth will reveal itself.