WWII veterans Isabell and Preble Staver fulfilled their sweet, final wish to nap together and hold hands, before dying on the same day, one week later.
At a Norfolk, Virginia, assisted living facility on Oct. 17, the late couple's nurses and children brought them into a room with a double bed, where they lay underneath a quilt of valor for one final cuddle.
"They didn't say a single word to each other," their daughter Laurie Clinton tells GoodHousekeeping.com. "They just reached out for each other — their hands, like magnets, clasped together — and they looked so peaceful."
Eight days later, Isabell and Preble were in their respective rooms at the facility, when they both died. Isabell, 95, passed away first, at 6 a.m., and Preble, 96, passed away around 8 that evening.
"After Mom passed, I went to Dad's room and bent down next to his bed and whispered, 'It's okay for you to let go now, Mom is waiting for you on the other side,' " says Clinton, who works as a private duty nurse in Norfolk. "I asked if he wanted to go to her funeral, and he said, 'No,' and cried. Then, he was gone, too."
A LOVE INTERRUPTED BY WAR
Isabell and Preble met on a blind date in Philadelphia in the early 1940s. Isabell was a pediatric nursing student and Preble was attending the . They hit it off immediately and began a long-distance relationship when Isabell moved to Richmond, Virginia, to continue her nursing education.
"Dad sort of swept her off her feet," Clinton says. "He was over six feet tall with fiery red hair, a very handsome figure, and she was absolutely smitten. She called him Red."
The two fell madly in love, but their romance was interrupted by war. Preble was admitted to the U.S. Marine Corps on April 1, 1942, and left for Japan. He was a field artillery officer during the Battle of Iwo Jima and later earned a Bronze Star. Isabell worked as a Navy nurse in Bethesda, Maryland, but "missed her sweetheart dearly," says Clinton. "They wrote letters to each other all the time, and Preble kept a photo of Isabell in his wallet, wherever he went."
As soon as Preble returned to the U.S. in 1946, the lovebirds got married at St. George's Episcopal Church in Washington D.C.
"Dad loved that Mom was so caring and generous and kind-hearted," recalls Clinton. "And Mom loved the way Dad made her feel protected and loved."
The couple raised five children together in Naples, Florida, where Preble worked as a banker and Isabell got back into nursing.
"Dad, the former Marine, was a pretty imposing figure, so when he said 'Jump,' we said, 'Yes, sir, how high?' " says Clinton, with a laugh. "But he just had this sweet spot for mom. He was tough on the outside, but he kept her photo by his bedside table for years.
"He really devoted his life and love to her."
The couple retired in Georgia's Hilton Head Island, where they spent their days playing tennis, gardening, and going on walks with their golden retriever.
"They were blissful, especially when all of us kids were out of the house," Clinton says. "It's like their love blossomed anew; it was quite beautiful."
When Isabell began showing signs of dementia in 2007, Preble refused to acknowledge that his wife might be on the decline.
"Dad would go to the library and pick out books for them to read together. He'd read it first and then she'd read it and they started a two-person book club, just them, to talk about it after," says Clinton. "When mom started becoming repetitive and forgetful from the dementia, dad went into denial.
"It was hard to imagine life without her."
The couple moved into the Norfolk assisted living facility in 2013, to be closer to Clinton. About three years later, Preble had a bad fall and required brain surgery.
"Dad was on Hospice, and we all thought he was going to die," Clinton says. "Mom was distraught. She would hold his hand and stroke his arm and tell him he was her big, strong Marine."
The couple spent their final days in separate rooms, until they both died on Oct. 25 — only six days before Isabell's 96th birthday.
Two weeks later, friends and family gathered in Virginia beach for a joint funeral, where a Marine honor guard stood by as they were laid to rest together.
"They had the type of true love that we all look for in this lifetime," says Clinton. "They married each other in sickness and in health, and they kept that vow until the very end.
"Now, they'll be together forever."