Will Cook’s books spark memories in ailing wife’s eyes

Will Cook’s books spark memories in ailing wife’s eyes

By Danae King

Will Cook, 90, hopes that one day his love for his wife will take them away together.

“I would relish being in the last scene of that movie,” said Will, referring to the movie, “The Notebook.”

“The Notebook,” released in 2004, and based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, follows the lives of characters Noah and Allie. They shared young love — like Wapakoneta resident Will and his wife, Pauline, who met in high school, and spent their life together.

The movie shows Noah and Allie, nearing the end of their lives, as he reads a story of the beginning of their relationship to her. It reminds Allie, who has the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, who he is and, at the end, they die in her bed together.

Will and Pauline’s story is not unlike the film. The two met in high school. He pulled her hair, and she leaned her head back so he could do it.

From then on, they were together. She was his first real girlfriend, and he her first real boyfriend.

They’ve been married for 69 years and have five children. They have been living apart for seven years, ever since Pauline, also 90, began to show the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and moved into a nursing home.

Will started writing to remind her of their life, their travels and memories together.

“I wasn’t aware of ‘The Notebook’ at the time I started this,” Will said. “I learned about it later. … I did see the movie ‘The Notebook’ and was feeling like he felt.

“When he read to her, she understood,” Will said.

When Will reads to Pauline, he can tell that she remembers and knows him, too. She has brief moments of clarity even though she can’t find her words.

“She recognized Dad, she recognized me,” said Will’s son, Donald, who first encouraged his father to start writing books. “You can see it in her eyes and her face, how she is trying to emote and communicate that she knows.”

For Will’s granddaughter, Alexandra Cook, the books have meant having her grandmother back for a treasured moment.

Alexandra, 22, was young when her grandmother moved into the nursing home, but she remembers her grandfather reading to Pauline, and the emotion on her grandmother’s face.

“She just gets this look in her eyes,” said Alexandra. “She knows who we are whenever he reads them … she has a look of hope.”

Alexandra loves these times with her grandmother, who can’t talk much due to her disease. The moments help Alexandra know “she’s still there and she still loves us,” she said. “It’s very comforting. … Having that time with her and having her give me that look.”

Writing books for Pauline also taught Will more about her life, her childhood and who she was as a person.

For one of the books, titled “Pearls of Pauline,” Will reached out to their family and friends and asked them to write down thoughts and memories of his wife once a week for 20 weeks leading up to her birthday.

What came back touched him.

He liked that “they honor the memories enough to send it to her,” he said. “We didn’t know how much her life touched others.”

In another book Will wrote his wife, titled “I hope I have a husband like you, you bring Pauline roses,” he wrote about their life together in 100 pages — as much as he could bind.

It chronicles in photos and words their visits to the redwood forests in California, Niagara Falls, Devils Tower and other landmarks and destinations.

The books he writes — some for himself and his family, in addition to those for Pauline — aren’t meant for widespread publication. They’re just for the Cooks.

“It was fun to do it and the fact that I had the mental capacity to be able to recall … My mental capacity has held steady,” he said.

Though it seems as though he has a romantic soul, Will doesn’t speak in flowery language or get poetic about his relationship with his wife.

They met in high school and, looking back, he says they got together because “I think we both thought, ‘I’m lucky to get anybody.’”

He couldn’t say why they’d stuck together for most of their lives, just that “we stuck together just because we did.”

“I can’t say how or what,” he said.

Will and Pauline had 62 years together before she started losing her memory.

“We just stuck it out,” Will said. “She probably had unfulfilled dreams of what marriage should be, as I have had … but we didn’t go to war about it.”

He mused about how today, people just give up on relationships.

Still, he’d recommend other couples in a similar situation write books for their significant other.

“Why not?” he said. “Of course. You need something to tie yourselves together.”

Next for Will is “crawling into bed with her. I have no plans beyond that.”

Salt Magazine