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This weekend we will hold our 9th annual Valentine’s Day Party. It’s easily the second best day of the year for our family (Christmas first, of course). Because it’s become a large event and almost a decade long tradition for us, and because I use #vivacookie on all my social media posts surrounding Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be nice to do a little post about Cookie. I’ve actually pieced together two different pieces of writing from several years ago. Cookie is always on my mind, always with me. But even more this time of year.

with Cookie and her daughter, Holly, at Cleveland’s West Side Market, Spring 2004

{From 2010}

This Valentine’s Day will mark 25 years since Cookie and her husband, Nazih’s first date. So, in Cookie’s words, “Valentine’s Day is extra special.”

Cookie is one of my mothers. And I am one of her daughters. A long-time friend of my parents, I had only ever heard of Cookie until I became a Mormon missionary and ended up in her neighborhood. She took care of me in the cold winters of Northeast Ohio. I taught her a bit about my faith. She taught me a lot about life.

I could write a thousand posts of what I’ve learned from Cookie. I could write about blending families and cultures beautifully. I could write about overcoming life’s trials. I could also write about the best place to buy hummus or where to find the fanciest shoes.

But today is February 1st. February 1st! (Oh the glory of this red and pink time of year!) So today I write about Cookie’s Valentine’s Day Party tradition.

Every year Cookie hosts an extraordinary Valentine’s Day party– complete with lunch, a fancy cake, games, and love enough to go around. She sends out charming invites and bedecks the house with hearts. All guests are required to wear red and pink.

Fabulous, right?

So I took a cue from Cookie and adopted the same tradition. My tradition is pretty simple. I invite by email or word of mouth. And I don’t even do lunch. Just cupcakes (of course).

{And now donuts! I wrote this bit before our 2010 party, which was the year of Cookie’s last party and our last visit to Ohio to be with her, as she received a cancer diagnosis that year. I still have the valentine she sent me that year. I treasure it so much and hang it up every February.}

{From 2011}

One day last fall I noticed that Cookie wasn’t responding to my emails. Within a week or so we received news of her passing. The next day I found myself on the phone, making arrangements to get to Cleveland immediately.

So much of that quick visit to attend her funeral mass seems surreal. I was back in the place I’d served as a young Mormon missionary, only this time I was pregnant with my third son. And Cookie, one of the central figures of my 6 month stay in the city of Rocky River, was missing.

I was there less than 48 hours, but it was long enough to feel deeply the sorrow of a friend taken by cancer and the joy and love one human being brought into the lives of everyone around her.

I was reminded of that love when I stayed up late talking to Cookie’s daughter, Holly, and watched her all weekend, courageously filling the role of matriarch of a large extended Italian family. I was reminded of it when I greeted Cookie’s mother, Rose (who is nearly 100!), and wept that she had to lose her young daughter. I thought of Cookie’s love as I hugged her husband, Nazih, and felt speechless and unable to convey how I felt for him. The way Cookie loved people was celebrated again and again–I felt it as I talked with her son, hugged her grandchildren, listened to the Priest who led the mass, observed co-workers (she’d been a nurse) as they spoke of the tender care she gave patients. I felt the way she loved people as her eulogy was given and then a letter from her was read, telling us of the joyous life she’d had and ‘not to cry for her.’

But I think the most poignant examples of the way Cookie loved came as Holly showed me all of the flowers that had been delivered. Of course there were dozens of gorgeous arrangements–from family members, dear friends, old co-workers. But four of the flower arrangements really stood out.

One from the hairdresser–a darling man Cookie had been a loyal client of for decades.

One from the dry cleaners–where Cookie had been such a longstanding customer that she kept a tab.

One from the mailman–who Cookie had always left bags of chips and chocolates for with her outgoing mail in the mailbox.

And one from the staff at Caribou Coffee–where she and her sweetheart, Nazih, had spent hours each week reading and talking and being together.

Cookie loved Valentine’s Day. And I find that so fitting, because she was so good at loving. This year as I celebrate, I am trying to be more like her. It’s not just about kisses and chocolate and romance. It’s about my little children. It’s about my friends. It’s about my neighbors. Maybe it’s even about my mailman.

It’s about more love.

Happy Love Day,



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