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Their love carried them: Independence couple both die of COVID-19

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

As Cody Cook and his sister Alexis process their parents’ deaths last week from COVID-19 complications, he said they take some solace in the fact that Doug and Teri Cook died mere moments apart, as if they had intended it that way.

“Their way of saying they’re ready to leave the Earth together, it was something poetic and beautiful,” Cody said. “Lexi and I are clinging to that, the fact that they went together.” 

Doug and Teri Cook died last week from COVID-19 complications. Doctors had moved them together in the same room, and the Independence couple died moments apart.

The Independence couple died Wednesday after being hospitalized the week before, Teri at age 55 and Doug at age 53. Teri was a longtime teacher, the last 20 years at Independence Academy, the Independence School District’s alternative school. Doug was a technician working on food equipment around the metro region.

“When this whole thing first started, there was sadness and confusion, but now I feel pride,” Cody said. “I’ve always been a hard worker, but it makes me want to work harder for them, to leave a legacy.”

Doug was hospitalized two days before Teri, both developed pneumonia from COVID-19, and she also had a blood clot in her lung. As their symptoms worsened and they were medically paralyzed on ventilators, three rooms apart from each other, doctors offered the option of putting them in the same room. The children said their parents’ symptoms mirrored each other.

“They weren’t receiving oxygen even when they went on a ventilator, and their organs were failing,” Alexis said.

“Mom would take a turn for the worse, and dad followed,” Cody said.

The children talked to them through a video feed, offering their parting words, and then an aunt said a prayer for them over the video. 

“As she said ‘amen,’ the nurse said they both passed,” Alexis said.

Alexis said her parents had been quarantining about a week before going to the hospital, and her mother felt bad about being away from the students. The day before going to the hospital, she made a video for her colleagues to show the students.

“She knew she was sick, and she put on her makeup and did her hair, like she was saying you can put on a brave face and suck it up, because other people are hurting, too,” Cody said. 

In the video, the children said, she told her students to root for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, that Ms. Cook would be back soon and to continue working hard.

“We remember going to her classroom when school ended in May,” Alexis said. “We would take down her posters, move the furniture, and in a couple months, in August, we would do it all again and put it back up.”

From their father, she said, they learned the value of education.

“He went to vocational school to learn the trade,” she said. “He realized all the opportunities there were, and he wanted us to get everything life had to offer.”

Both siblings are in college right now, Cody studying accounting at UMKC, and Alexis, who is six years younger, studying sociology and anthropology at Truman State University. Both are quarantining right now due to COVID-19, so funeral arrangements are pending. Alexis said she might have a small sense of denial right now, and eventually the reality will hit her, so right now she’s trying to take in all the best wishes and support from family and friends.

“I don’t know when it will hit me that I won’t be able to come for break and stay with them, but my parents were my best friends, and it all ended so quickly,” she said. “When it gets to that point, I think I will be engulfed by their memories, and I’ll be more grateful for everything they’ve done.”

“We know the importance of people wanting to get together and celebrate their lives.”

As of Monday morning, a GoFundMe page set up online by a family friend while the Cooks were still hospitalized had surpassed the $15,000 goal. 

The Independence School District shared a statement on the teacher’s death: 

“Our hearts are heavy with the passing of Teri Cook. We grieve this loss and remember her heart for kids during her more than 20 years in the Independence School District. We have had additional counselors at school to provide support for colleagues and students. Teri was a talented and dedicated educator and she will be deeply missed.”