STEUBENVILLE - Cookie West still grieves for her son.
"Its hard for me to talk about him in the past tense," she said while quietly crying.
It has been approximately 18 months since Lee West, a 15-year-old Steubenville High School honor student, died during an accidental house fire.
PLANNING A BIRTHDAY BASH — Cookie West, mother of the late Lee West, stands at Belleview Park where she will host a birthday bash to remember her son and to bring the community together. The event is planned from noon until 7 p.m. Saturday at the lower level of the park. — Dave Gossett
But while the loss of her son remains with Cookie West every day, she continues to "keep a smile on my face."
"When kids who knew Lee see me they see him. Its healthy to grieve for someone you have lost. But I have had mothers tell me how Lee inspired their son or daughter to be a better person. And that is what life is about now," said West.
"It is OK to love Jesus and not be ashamed. Lee gave his life to Jesus. He was smart, athletic, charismatic and handsome. He was a peaceful person, and he gave his life to Christ," she said.
Cookie West has announced the second-annual Birthday Bash to remember Lee West and continue the L.A.W. Spiritual Movement will be held from noon until 7 p.m. Saturday at the lower level of Belleview Park.
The first Birthday Bash last year saw an estimated 1,500 people fill the lower level of Belleview Park for the introduction of the Lee Alexander West Spiritual Movement and nonprofit foundation.
"Lee had a unique goodness about him that was given to him by God. We as a family and a community may not understand why Lee was taken from us. But we want to celebrate his life. And we want to get to know other people in our community. Once you get to know a person they can become a lifelong friend. That is how Lee approached life," said West.
"It is important for us to look at the positive things in our community. I'm not giving up on Steubenville. Lee loved this city. We need to keep letting the light shine here," commented West.
"I talked to Leslie Thermes and the Brentwood United Methodist Church will be sending their praise and worship band to the Birthday Bash. The Girlz Dance Group from the Tower of Power Church will also be here performing, and I am thankful for everyone who is participating. Last year we held a basketball tournament for high school and college age kids. So this year we will host a three-on-three middle school basketball tournament. And we will have a kickball game on the baseball diamond," said West.
"We will also have a cornhole tournament and a series of games for the younger kids. There will be face painting, balloons and clowns," added West.
"Lee would be celebrating his 17th birthday this month. This will be a day filled with celebration with a Christian twist. It will be a fun-filled day. Lee would be very pleased with the idea of having family and friends along with the community together having a good time. The Birthday Bash would put a smile on his face," West explained.
"And if Lee was here for the Birthday Bash he would be trying to coerce me into playing kickball with him. We are a very athletic and competitive family. Lee never met anyone who was a stranger. He respected people and didn't judge people. And Lee had so many different genres of friends. He was friends with the Goths, the jocks and the street kids. And they have all told me personal stories about Lee," West said softly.
"If Lee was still here today he would start the day lifting weights for football. He would be getting ready to learn his playbook and then going swimming and later playing his PlayStation 3. And he would be hanging out with his cousins and his sisters. He liked to work out but he was also a homebody. And Lee would be talking my ear off, probably about the Miami Heat winning the NBA championship. Lee was a Lakers fan and didn't favor the Heat," laughed West.
"We will be serving free hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and a drink from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Then we will have cake and ice cream at 5 p.m. This is a community event and we will have something for all age groups," West remarked.
"We have asked the city fire department and the police department juvenile officer to join us here and we are excited they have agreed to be with us. It is very important for us to look at the fire department and the police department as our friends," noted West.
"Lee had the courage to follow his heart and have a personal relationship with Jesus. Lee still lives on the Belleview baseball fields, on the basketball court and on the Harding Stadium football field as well as in the hallways of Harding Middle School and Steubenville High School. The Birthday Bash is to celebrate Lee's life and his eternal life," stated West.
(Gossett can be contacted at email@example.com.)