One of the most classic love stories of our generation is The Notebook and a big reason why is everyone can’t help but get teary eyed at the end of the movie when the nurse discovered both Noah and Allie peacefully passed away, side-by-side. A happy marriage for over 70 years then death on the very same day just hours apart – it’s just not something that you’d expect to actually happen in real life…but it has. The real life version of The Notebook is the love story of Isabell Whitney and Preble Staver.
They had first met on a blind date while they were both enrolled in college in Philadelphia. Anyone who knew them could tell you that these two were meant for one another from the very start. They were even born just days apart – Preble was born on October 17, 1921, and Isabell was born that same year on October 31.
But then, almost as soon as they met, they had to separate. The USA entered into WWII and they both decided to enroll to serve their country. Preble went into the Marines while Isabell became a Navy nurse in Maryland. When the war ended they reunited and five months later, on February 15, 1946, the pair were married.
“They just had a ball. It was just so much fun. They really enjoyed each other’s company. It was just fun to see them, and they made a nice little life for themselves.” – Laurie
They kept happily busy raising five children. They also moved around the country a lot (living in Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida – to name a few) because of Preble ‘s career as a banker and lobbyist. Isabell spent years raising their five children before eventually going back to work as a nurse. No matter what happened in life, through thick and thin, the two together made it work.
One of their daughters, Laurie Staver Clinton, 62-years old when her parents died, explained how her beloved father was “a tall, outgoing man with a strong, ‘larger than life’ personality.” She described her mother as “[her] heart” and someone who “taught [her] how to be a kind person, how to be a compassionate person.”
Then, in 1975, tragedy struck the family. One of their sons, Peter, died during the last football game of his senior year of high school. Laurie recalls the sorrow this accident brought upon them all. She said that it changed her father, that it brought out “a softer side of my dad. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their kids and that really took a toll on my folks, but it also brought them together. Something like that can either tear a couple apart, but they made a pact to get through it together. They really were each other’s support team.”
In 2013 Isabell began to develop dementia. This was the beginning of another difficult time. As a result, the couple moved into a long-term care facility in Norfolk, Virginia. Since Isabell had to stay in the Memory Care Unit, they were forced to have to live in separate rooms at the facility. A friend of theirs said:
“Sometimes he was a little frustrated because she may not recognize him. But … when she did, you could always just see him — just smiling, like crazy.”
He stayed there with her though no matter what. He would not leave her side. It was difficult to watch his wife fade further and further away, but Preble was there for her each and every day. Laurie recalled the time:
“They just found another way to express their love. Dad, even after he stopped walking and was in a wheelchair, he would wheel himself down to the Memory Care Unit and go visit mom. When I would reunite them, they always, the first thing they’d do was put their hands out and hold each other’s hand and tell each other they loved each other.”
On Preble’s 96th birthday he wanted only one thing – to take a nap with his wife. The staff granted him his birthday wish and the couple enjoyed a three-hour nap, side by side, hand in hand. The staff said that:
“There was not a single word spoken between the two of them. They held hands and just fell asleep.”
Right before Isabell’s 96th birthday, on October 25, 2017, she passed away. Preble was there by her side.
Laurie explained through tears:
“He held her hand, and it was just so tender. I asked him if he wanted to stay after the prayers, and he shook his head. I said, ‘Okay, but you know that means you’re going to have to let go of her hand?’ I was crying, and he was crying…He very gingerly let go as I was pulling his wheelchair away from her bed, and then he took the cover and covered her hand back. It just about broke my heart because that was a tender side of my dad I wasn’t used to seeing, and I wasn’t used to him being so gentle.”
Then, as if he was just holding on waiting to make sure she was always ok, fourteen hours later, Preble passed away too.
“Mom and dad really lived out that, if you make a commitment, and even though life gets rough or life gets in the way, you work through life. And you live your life together.” – Laurie
On Nov. 10 their friends and family gathered in a Virginia Beach church for a joint funeral. Isabell and Preble Staver were laid down together one last time — side by side in the old church cemetery.
To conclude, here is some simple advice from professionals about how you can create this type of love in your life.
- According to Mudita Rastogi, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist in Arlington Heights, Illinois:
“Your interests, opinions, and experiences can change as you grow. But if you share the same core belief systems, you will have a platform from which to build a strong relationship.”
- According to Mark E. Sharp, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in relationship issues:
“Long lasting true love is when two people make a commitment to each other and choose to act in ways that sustain their feelings for each other and their connection to each other over time.”