“Cookies would make me feel better.”

That was the calculated reply of my three-year-old son to his grandparents as they were leaving the hospital.  His baby brother entered the world that morning, and after meeting his 7 lb 8 oz sibling for the obligatory photo op, Corey was heading home to spend the night with his grandparents while Ryan and I stayed one night in the hospital with Jordan.  My parents wanting to check in on how Corey was adjusting to no longer being an only child, asked him if he was okay as they left the parking lot.  His sentiment about cookies detoured my parents to the grocery store to buy a bucket of chocolate chip cookie dough.   Well played three-year-old Corey.

Eighteen years later this is a story that has become part of the folklore of my family.  And on countless occasions since then I have experienced the truth that a freshly baked cookie holds within it’s warmth the power to comfort to a weary soul.

Last fall I spent twelve of the most sacred days of my life with my best friend and her husband.  For most of 2018, Mark heroically battled cancer. But mid-November I received a text from Holly telling me that things were bad and they had brought in hospice to help manage Mark’s pain.  Two days later I was on a plane, flying across the country to join Mark and Holly and their daughters in the final days of his cancer journey.

Cancer had overtaken the cells of Mark’s body, but not the beauty of his heart and mind.  I’ll never forget what he said to me when I first stepped their bedroom, “They say that money can’t buy happiness. But money bought the airline ticket that brought you here to us.”

Holly has been my best friend since we were 17-year-old, high school seniors.  We have journeyed side by side through every peak and valley of life for almost thirty years.  I could write a book on the joys and tragedies we have held each others hands through.  The only person I share a deeper intimacy with in this world is my husband.  And so, my natural response to Mark’s sweet sentiment was to pull back the covers and climb into the king sized bed with my dearest friend and her dying husband.

Throughout my stay I took care of their household so that Holly could stay bedside with Mark.  I cooked, cleaned, ran errands, communicated with his hospice team, and updated friends and family.  I even walked through the snow – in the dark, cold at 5 am – to get an adamant Mark “two, large blue slushies” from a convenience store around the corner from their house.

(In Mark’s defense by that time he was no longer aware of the time of day or outside temperatures, and the slushies were the only thing that soothed the sores in his mouth.)

And yet I was constantly aware that nothing I could do was enough to match the weight of grief that was taking up residence in their household.

Throughout my stay Holly and I spent considerable time sitting with Mark and reminiscing about all the stories we have shared so far. Narratives that are sweet and wondrous and sad and miraculous and tragic and ridiculous (For anyone who understands an “I Love Lucy” reference: she is my Lucy and I am her Ethel and we have gotten ourselves in and out of a fair share of pickles over the years.)

It was a shared memory about the cookies that Holly’s mom often made when we teenagers that gave me an idea of a powerful way to fill their home with love – even if it just momentarily pushed back against the weight of descending grief.  Diane’s “Cowboy Cookies” were epic, and Holly told me that years ago her mom gave her the recipe.  Holly and I went into her kitchen and found the recipe card, written in Diane’s beautiful hand-writing.

“Cookies would make me feel better.”

I headed off to the store for ingredients.

A while later, warm Cowboy Cookies came out of the oven, and Holly’s kitchen filled with the fragrance of her mom and home.  We stood side by side near the oven eating cookies that connected us to the safety of home and the people who love us – and for a that brief moment cookies did indeed make us feel better.

On Thanksgiving day I stepped out of Holly and Mark’s home, into the dark, cold rain of the early morning hours to get into the Uber that would begin my journey back home.  Leaving them is one of the hardest things I have ever done, but one of Holly’s other lifelong best friends had arrived to take the baton and it was time for me to return to my family.  Mark died four days later.

I have made Diane’s Cowboy Cookies countless times since then – for my family, the people who gather around my table, for other friends navigating a difficult journey, and for a grief support group that I facilitate at the hospice where I work.  I will keep making Cowboy Cookies because they make me feel better.  These cookies remind me that goodness and beauty and comfort never cease to exist in our world that also has to endure disease, injustice, suffering, and death.

As we continue to walk this journey together, Cowboy Cookies will always be a symbol of God’s promise that no matter what, “these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians: 13: 13)

Mark & Holly’s Wedding, October 2015

Published by Wendy Kessler

The table is my favorite place to gather. It is where family & friends are nourished by good food and good conversation, as the sacred and the ordinary intersect over meals served daily.


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