Artwork created by teens on display at Ciao Gelato in Steamboat |

Artwork created by teens on display at Ciao Gelato in Steamboat

Zach Fridell

Tatum Sear is one of six teenage girls who designed masks as part of Katy Thiel's grief counseling group.
Matt Stensland

— Facing the world after suffering grief, especially losing a family member, can be a trying experience for anyone. Despite the anger and sadness, sometimes you have to face the world. And sometimes, that takes a mask.

The teenage girls working with Katy Thiel's grief counseling group with Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice learned that wearing a mask is a normal part of dealing with the intense emotions of grief. Now their masks hang on the wall of Ciao Gelato on Yampa Street, a depiction of the emotional shields they have learned to use and control.

"In life, sometimes we have to put on a mask," Thiel said as she explained the project. "Our feelings may be one way, but to get through the day, we have to put on a mask."

Thiel works as a grief counselor with all age groups for all topics, but for this project, she had six teenage girls who have all experienced the death of a loved one. She said the group allowed the girls to talk to someone else who has been in the situation, with a focus on normalizing the grief to make it understandable.

Thiel said the lessons focused on learning that "it's OK I'm sad, or I'm not sad, or I'm angry," because those new emotions can cause anxiety if the girls don't understand them.

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During the five-week course, the girls would talk about anything — not just the loss — as they painted, glued and decorated their mounted ceramic masks. After they were done, each girl gave her mask a name and collectively they decided to hang them up for everyone to see.

Tatum Sear's dad, Jason Sear, died of cancer in May 2009. Now 14, Tatum said the group's support was a great addition to the friends she has.

"It helped a lot because my friends, they try to be helpful and talk to me, but they don't know what it is like," she said.

Her mask is painted with happiness and sadness, a flower on one side and a tear streaking down the other cheek to show that despite the sadness, sometimes she can be happy, too.

Her mother, Stacey Foster, said the grief groups have been good for Tatum and her brothers, Nick and Jake Sear.

"Being in the groups that Katy oversees, my children realize they're not the only ones suffering from grief, from loss of a parent," she said.

Thiel said the artwork would remain on the wall for a few more weeks before the girls take the masks home. She said grief counseling groups are ongoing and that she plans to start a music-based support group for elementary-age children this year. For more information about grief counseling programs for all ages, call Thiel at 871-7628.

— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail

For more

For more information about grief counseling for all ages, call Katy Thiel at 871-7628. See the masks on display at Ciao Gelato, 700 Yampa St.