STEUBENVILLE - It is still hard for Cookie West to talk about her son.
Lee West died on Jan. 31 of this year, the victim of a house fire at his 316 Virginia Ave. home.
But even as she mourns the loss of her 15-year-old son, Cookie and her two daughters continue to give back to the community that embraced her family following Lee's death.
REMEMBERING LEE — Cookie West of Steubenville has planned a free community Christmas party Saturday to honor her late son, Lee West, and to say thanks for the community’s support after Lee was killed in a house fire last January. Cookie sat down to talk about the past year in her life and dealing with life without her son. - Dave Gossett
"We are planning a free community Christmas party from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center. We will have pizza and cookies available from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. we will hold a family basketball tournament. We are asking each team that enters the tournament to be all family members. They can be brothers or sisters, parents, aunts or uncles. We just want each team to be from the same family," explained Cookie.
This isn't the first event Cookie has arranged to remember Lee.
She held a birthday party to celebrate what would have been her son's 16th birthday in July that saw 1,500 people join her at Belleview Park
"The summer event was fantastic. The entire park was filled with people. It was far more people than I ever expected. The D.A.R.E. officer was there. The Steubenville Tigers came to the summer event along with the Steubenville Fire Department. It was really nice to see that many people come to celebrate Lee's birthday," noted Cookie.
"The Steubenville Fire Department will be at the community Christmas party Saturday. They are excited about coming to the party. They have a hard job to do and I appreciate their support. We want to explain how Lee passed. So many people asked why Lee didn't climb out a window. But it was the carbon monoxide that got to Lee. And carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless. We all need to be aware of fire safety," said Cookie.
"I had two fire alarms in my house but they weren't enough. I encourage people to get carbon monoxide detectors. Don't think about them when it is too late," she commented.
"The holiday season makes it all harder for me. But God makes it more manageable. Lee always wanted to give back to the community. There are bad things in our community but I want to do things to help promote the positive sides of our community. We all need to promote family, love and Jesus Christ in our lives," continued Cookie.
"Everyone I have talked to or met was touched by Lee in one way or another. Teachers, students, adults and children have told me stories of how Lee touched them. So with the help of some really awesome people we have organized this movement to do what's right in God's sight. We want to promote Christian activities throughout the Ohio Valley's youth and families to help enrich and engage their mind, body and spirit," according to Cookie.
"Lee was such a big part of our lives. And I wake up every day thinking of him. I cry when I need to cry and when I feel sad, then I am sad. I won't feel any different 20 years from now. I miss him very much but I know he is in heaven," she said.
"God has comforted me. My tears are tears of joy because Lee is in heaven. And they are tears of sorrow because I miss him," Cookie said.
"I remember when I was praying God came to me and said Lee was with the angels. I told God I was OK because Lee was with him. The only way to function and to be who I am is through the grace of God. I know how my heart feels, but I have God. And I have more good days than bad," explained Cookie.
"I pray for this tragedy can be a blessing for all of our communities. And I hope everyone and anyone who was touched by Lee can join us Saturday to remember Lee and to start working together for the future of all of our children," she said.
"I still have people come up to me and say they are praying for me. Every day is tough for me. No one day is less tough than another day. I have had hard days and long days. But at the same time I am so encouraged by the youth of the community. The youth are very compassionate, loving and caring," said Cookie.