STEUBENVILLE - The family of Lee West lit 15 candles Thursday night - one candle for each year of the teenager's life that ended one year ago when he died in a house fire on Jan. 31.
Then, Cookie West asked family, friends, classmates and teammates from Steubenville High School to sit in silence for 15 minutes, "and reflect on how we can each be a better person. I want us all to reflect on Lee as a friend, a son, a brother and a teammate. I want all of us here to take an opportunity just to be still."
It is still hard for Cookie West to talk about her son in the past.
REMEMBERING LEE WEST — Cookie West, center, looked at a floral arrangement sent by teammates of her late son Lee West prior to a memorial service Thursday evening at the Tower of Power Church. She was joined by her daughters, Aundrea West, left, and Elexis Martin, during the service to mark the one-year anniversary of Lee West’s death during a house fire. - Dave Gossett
"I didn't know how I would feel today one year after the fire. When I woke up I felt overwhelmed. I was reliving the last day of Lee's life. I didn't want to be sad, but I was. Today the community has joined us to remember Lee. But we remember him every day. I think about him and really miss him," she continued prior to a 40-minute memorial service at the Tower of Power Church.
"Lee was a great young man and a great son who touched a lot of people. I realized that when I saw all of the people here for his funeral a year ago. I think today about how precious life is and how important our choices are. Lee got to play sports and be a young man, but he also let God into his life. He didn't take life for granted," Cookie West told the approximately 75 people sitting in the church pews.
"I never thought he would pass. Sometimes I am doing something and I suddenly realize Lee isn't here any more. Lee was never afraid to act out of the box. He let God set his standards," she added.
Lee's father, Elmer Martin, said Thursday was "a bittersweet day."
"I find comfort because Lee touched a lot of people. There are times we all want to ask, 'why Lee.' But my son left a legacy behind him. That is something some people don't do in 100 years," Martin said.
"Our hearts are heavy and our minds are pulled this way and that way. While Lee is not here tonight, he is with everyone one of you," stated Lee West's grandmother, Bernadine White.
A photo montage played on the wall behind the choir loft during the 15 minutes of silent reflection showed Lee West as a baby, a Little League baseball player and later wearing the sports uniforms of his beloved Steubenville High School.
And in every photo Lee West had a smile on his face.
"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. 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," Cookie West 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," said Cookie West.
"Lee was a talker. And he was a caring, considerate person. My daughters talk about him all the time. That's the part I miss the most, that every day conversation with Lee. He was a really good son," she remarked.
"I believe Lee is looking down from heaven. I believe Lee is always with me. I know I will see Lee again. I understand and respect God's plan. He needed Lee. 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 West stated.