Free Gift with Purchase

By Alex Cohen

As I sat down to write this blog post I struggled to find the right words to describe my dear friend Loretta and capture just how much she meant to me. Words just can’t describe the strength of our bond or the truly indescribable ways in which she touched my life.

Loretta was my “free gift with purchase.”

Loretta walked into my life in the spring of 2003. A mutual acquaintance, David Bloom, had died tragically from a pulmonary embolism while reporting from the front lines of the war in Iraq.  He left behind a wife, Melanie, and three young daughters, two of whom attended Sacred Heart School with my girls.  Loretta, along with Lee Woodruff, and a few of the other mothers at the school asked me if I would help them raise money for Melanie’s children to stay and finish their education at Sacred Heart.

Fourteen years ago I didn’t know any of these women, and I had never lost anyone that close to me, but as a mother, I understood their shared pain – their desire to do everything to ensure a friend’s children would have everything they needed – so I got involved. And not to mention, I did know how to fundraise… that was one of my many talents.

Loretta, all the other mothers, and I spent endless hours at my home working together to put on a fundraising event to honor David.  In that time, Loretta and I quickly became friends. A few months later, I invited her and her husband Steve, who we call “Elliot,” out with my group of friends; it was love at first site. And just like that, Loretta and I became inseparable; she was a part of my friend group, a group of people we often call our “extended family.”

The event to honor David came and went and was a great success, and one I will never forget. I felt like I walked away with much more than the positive I got from volunteering and helping this family. I got Loretta, my “free gift with purchase.”

This turned into an ongoing joke with us. For years, any time we went shopping together and I would buy something that happened to come with a “free gift with purchase,” I always gave it straight to Loretta. More than an inside joke, it was a constant reminder of our friendship – how lucky I was to have met her – how much she meant to me.


Loretta was a wonderful mother to her son and daughter, William and Caroline. Her life revolved around raising these great kids who would eventually grow to be amazing adults.  She was strict with them and it showed; they were the most polite and respectful children I have ever met. Even when I would kid around and try to get her kids to do something “bad,” they would laugh and I subsequently became known as “that naughty aunt.”

Loretta was a very reserved gal, or that was the impression I got from her attire as she always dressed conservatively in her work suits and pearls.  When we attended our first charity event together, she showed up wearing what I considered to be an outfit better suited for a 70-year-old woman. I told her next time to show up dressed her age and to show her assets, which made her crack up, though she did promise to update her wardrobe for me.

This was the first time she took my advice but not the last time; Loretta trusted me when I recommended things, such as traveling without her children.  Loretta had a tight family unit, they did EVERYTHING together, but when we did our friend vacations, there were no kids allowed.  The first time I invited Loretta and Elliot on one of our trips, she told me they never left their kids behind and would pass on our adventure.  The second time I invited them, I asked her to try it and see if she was comfortable. They came without the kids and had a blast; the kids were safe and sound and she and Elliot acted as if it was their second honeymoon!  On one of our trips together to Puerto Rico, Loretta became obsessed with a sign in front of McDonalds. It read, “Desayuno Servi Carro” (which translates to “breakfast is served in drive through”); she thought it was the funniest thing to say and repeated it for years every time we passed a McDonalds.

Then there was the kids’ sleep-away camp – oh-no, she was definitely not having any of that! After a sit-down conversation and a lot of hand-holding, Loretta agreed to allow both of her children to go to sleep-away for seven weeks (assuming they would all miss each other so much that she would have to pick them up after four weeks).  I remember the day we dropped them off, she said her goodbyes, excused herself to use the ladies’ room and came out wearing dark sunglasses, and I knew she had been crying.  On our way back home, I reassured her that I felt the same way at first, but knowing how much my kids loved camp (well, most of them), they would all be fine.  I think it took her one day and one night to love getting up in the morning and only having to worry about her and her husband, and then it became a honeymoon summer for them.  They did everything and anything – their summer was full of adventure. When it came time to see the kids on visiting day, they saw how happy both of their kids were and felt so much better about allowing them to go.  Camp turned out to be the best experience and both kids returned each year, and Loretta’s son even went back one summer to work as a counselor.

We were both members of the same country club, where we ate together often, and when Elliot recommended Loretta join the club board I said, “OH OH, these people have no idea what tornado is coming through here.”  Loretta got straight to work – designing, updating and renovating the entire club and planning fun theme nights… we all loved spending time there.

Then came Loretta’s 40th birthday. She had called to tell me how angry she was at Elliot for not planning anything other than taking her to dinner that night.  I told her that she should make the best of the night and jokingly suggested that she should dress scandalously and wear a coat with nothing under her dress. Like the trusting friend she was, she heeded my advice.  Little did she know that the “dinner” her husband had planned was actually a surprise party, and 50 of us were waiting to surprise her at the Metropolitan Club in NYC that night. When she walked through the door and saw us, a look of panic came across her face. The gentleman at the door tried to take off her coat but she would not let him remove it. Why? Because she was dressed like a floozy!!  She had done exactly what I told her, and looked at me like she wanted to punch me in the face.  The night turned out to be a blast – I had never seen her so happy surrounded by all those who loved her.

We spent endless nights with Loretta, Elliot, and their family whether at restaurants, baseball games, away on trips, in the Hamptons, or at Sunday dinners at our home in Connecticut. Our children grew up knowing each other and we all loved every minute together.

Everybody loved their family, they were so much fun to be around and their joy was contagious. The first question out of everyone’s mouth was always, “are Loretta and Elliot coming?” They entertained us with their hysterical stories of their adventures and misadventures, and we would always end up in pain at the end of the night from laughing so hard. They always showed up with a gift for the group, “baby,” as we called it, which was a HUGE magnum of wine that was equivalent to about 6 bottles in one, and we all drank it happily. Elliot would add a ton of ice to his glass of red wine, even to the dismay of most sommeliers in the finer restaurants that we frequented.

When it came time for her son to choose a college, Loretta was thrilled that USC was his first choice; my twin daughters were already students there and loved it so much.  We all toured the school together and, much like Loretta and my friendship, it was love at first sight. He applied and was accepted.  I had no doubt he would get in as he was one the nicest, smartest and most hardworking kids I had ever met, just like his momma.

Last summer after moving our kids into college, Loretta started getting sad. To cheer her up, I suggested we go get our hair done.  While in the salon, I proposed that we get hair extensions because…why not?  She agreed longer hair could be fun, so we went for it.

After 4 hours of tedious work, we both walked out of the salon with long hair that looked so real and was guaranteed to last a few months. She could not stop touching her hair, constantly looking in the mirror and saying, “have you seen my hair?”

While I had mine removed after one month – they were driving me crazy – Loretta, on the other hand, took meticulous care of hers and kept them in the whole time.  Over those next few months she constantly flipped her hair in our friends’ faces, teasing and joking, “have you seen my hair?”  Needless to say, we were thrilled when she removed them.

Loretta was always up for anything, she was such a happy soul and such a kind and giving person.  She would always pick up small gifts that made her think of us; she once gave my Goddaughter some of her favorite perfume because she said Loretta smelled nice; she was always thoughtful and generous.  Jo Malone was her signature scent and I think of her every time I see or smell it.  She was sweeter than any scent she could ever buy, she really was.

She talked about the nasty swans she bought and then put in her tub for the winter when she was afraid they would die in the cold, until one summer when they disappeared one by one.  Then there were Peaches and Carlos, her little boy poodles who she loved so much, I remember how sad she was when Carlos passed.

Her parents Bill (Pop) and Marilyn were adorable and I saw them often when we went to the club for dinner; I had a wicked crush on Pop – don’t worry Marilyn knew about it – and Loretta would cringe when I got flirty with him, I just did it to make her give me that “oh God” look that she gave.  Her parents knew my family as well and were always invited to our special life events. We love them all.


This past August, Loretta and I took my daughters and her son back to USC together. We planned to stay in LA for one whole week to make sure our kids were settled in, and to enjoy LA before the summer ended and we would have to go back to business and our regular day-to-day lives.  I promised her we would hit all of her favorite food spots while we were there that week, and she was thrilled.  We started our trip with a dinner that I had arranged with our LA friends at a new restaurant and had a blast. A couple of nights later we had dinner at Bazaar; this was her favorite place and we went every time we were in LA together. Before we sat down she warned me that while it was a family-style service, she wanted her own order of the croquettes with the quail egg on top. She got her way and ate them happily along with everything else in sight. I don’t think we stopped smiling the whole night.

One day I asked her if she wanted to join me for lunch at a little French restaurant to try something that I had heard was amazing. Like always, she trusted me and came along.  When I ordered the fondue (I had seen this on the show Food Network Star and had to try it) she almost cried. She told me that fondue was her all-time favorite food but she never ate it because her husband didn’t like it. At lunch that day in LA she proceeded to eat the entire bowl with such gusto – it was like watching her reunite with an old friend.

Some of our other LA adventures to note: we played tennis at my new club for the first time, she and I were on the same level and we took a lesson with a trainer named Mary Pat. We fell in love with her, she taught us so much and we had such a good time that we never wanted the lesson to end, so we booked another one while we were there. We went to our friend Guy Fieri’s home for brunch in Santa Rosa and then spent the rest of the day in Napa Valley and took the girls to dinner.  We ate Loretta’s favorite donuts for breakfast, we had a dinner party at my house and invited all of our LA friends and popped open a really nice bottle of wine. We shopped, we worked out together, we walked with our friend Wendy, we toured the new village at USC, we drove to Malibu and had dinner on the water at Nobu… I don’t think we ever stopped moving.

On that trip I bought her a pair of reading glasses because she refused to admit that she needed a stronger prescription (I am the one who convinced her she needed them in the first place a few years ago).  She carried this humungous purse with her everywhere but could never find anything in it, so I introduced her to the Purse Organizer, which she was so happy to fill. Every time she opened her bag she would ask “want to see how organized my bag is?” “Oh no,” I thought, “this is going to be like her extensions…” and it was – she kept it going the entire week.  She carried around a giant notebook to keep her to-do list in, and I promised her I would bring a smaller, more portable one for her the following weekend after we returned home.

The day before we left, Loretta’s son met us in downtown LA to try a famous French dip sandwich, which they loved. I told Loretta that I had some errands to run and suggested she walk around campus with William and see where his classes were. Hours later when she returned, she thanked me for the suggestion and said she had the best time with her son.

The next morning we went to Bob’s Coffee & Donuts and had a donut and coffee, she had tea because she had switched over a year ago when we started the Eat Right for Your Type Blood Type Diet, she said it made her less jittery and calmed her.  We had our last 3-mile walk together before we headed to the airport to depart, but not before picking up In-N-Out burgers for the trip home.

Thursday night on the flight back we laughed about all we had done and how we had filled the entire week with fun things. My husband, who had joined us for part of the trip, commented that he could not believe all we had eaten – he was amazed. Without missing a beat, Loretta turned to him and said, “you never know what tomorrow will bring, so eat what makes you happy.”  We landed, and after saying hello to her daughter who had come to pick her up, Loretta hugged me, thanked me for the best week of her life, and said “love you.”

“Love you too,” I responded. “I’ll see you for dinner on Saturday out East.”

Those were the last words we ever spoke.


I woke up early the next morning, a Friday, to drive to our house out East for the weekend. By 12pm I was making good time and was on the Sunrise Highway when I got the call. My office said that Loretta’s sister was trying to reach me and she sounded very upset. At first I thought something had happened to Loretta’s parents. When I finally got hold of Loretta’s sister, I was not prepared for what she was about to tell me.

I found out that Loretta’s husband had snapped and shot and killed Loretta, their daughter, and himself, and from that moment on… everything was a blur.

I am not sure how I got home – the only thing I kept thinking was, “this can’t be real.”

We got their surviving son, William, on a plane back as soon as possible without saying too much about what happened. Then I rallied the troops and called our friends, knowing we needed to all be together at this terrible moment. I needed them to hold me up; we needed to hold each other up.

At home I went up to my bedroom and sobbed uncontrollably; I could not believe Loretta, Elliot, and Caroline were gone. I tried to convince myself this was all a bad dream and I would wake up soon and see them walk into dinner on Saturday as they always had…

The nightmare continued with the media twisting the story and airing some very personal things that Loretta had not even shared with me; it was awful, and I could not imagine what her son was going through.

William arrived later that evening along with my two daughters; they had flown back from USC to New York with him so he would not be alone. I was so proud of their bravery and compassion for their friend who was suffering from such an unimaginable tragedy.


Saying our goodbyes and laying Loretta, Elliot, and Caroline to rest the next week was harder than I ever could have imagined, just walking into the room with three coffins almost dropped me to my knees.  I knelt in front of Loretta’s coffin wondering how we all got here and cried so much I thought I would soak the carpet; I prayed to God that he took her soul and that of her daughter before they even knew what was coming.  I spoke at the mass and felt her there with me at the podium giving me strength.

For those of you who did not know this family, they were the happiest and most fun people you could ever meet. They were an amazing family who did everything together, and they even made a pact to see every state in America as a family before their son went off to college.  This was a shock to all who knew them, and for those of you who did not know them, I hope this helps you understand how absolutely tragic this is for all who did.

Today, I am at peace with the situation at hand. Whenever I am in pain, I channel Loretta and ask “What Would Loretta Do?” The answer I get is, “wipe your tears, remember all the best times and help William and the rest of the family get through this.”

I am doing my best to get through this. I am so grateful for the love, support, and compassion my friends and my husband have shown me during this difficult time.  I cannot begin to thank my kids for their own love and support toward Loretta’s son, William – the amazing GoFundMe page they created to fund a trust set up in his name, and their strength to attend the wake and mass to be there for the family.

Thank you to friends who knew the family and friends who did not, who contributed to his Trust solely because I asked. Thank you to my friends who are my constant companions who held me up during this time and always.  There are still days when I scroll through my pictures and see Loretta’s face smiling back at me, or come across something that reminds me of her, I lose it for a second but then thank God for those amazing moments I was able to share with her. That’s how I go on.

Lastly I want to thank Loretta for bringing such joy to my life. You and your family will live on forever in my heart, and know I will take care of your son, parents and sisters – like I told them, they have huge shoes to fill.

Cheers to you in heaven, save me a glass my friend and seat next to you.