Meaning found in years of saying 'I do' each day
Vowing to love and honor one another isn't something Drs. Evelyn and Tom McKnight said only once nearly 32 years ago when they got married. It is something they say daily through the choices they make.
Since their marriage July 21, 1979, at Church of the Holy Spirit in Plattsmouth, both said their love has grown stronger and deeper. "It's been magical," said Tom, 57.
Like many couples married for decades, they have seen joyful and sad times, sickness and health. The surprise was that daily life, not the intense stress of life-threatening disease, created what both call some of their more difficult times.
"The vows are an outward sign, the public declaration, which we took very seriously," said Evelyn, 56. "After the ceremony, I can remember thinking that this is forever and being very sobered by that fact."
Committing to forever and all of life's variables left her questioning her ability to do something so far reaching, she said. They had dated for five years as they went through rigorous programs for degrees in the health-care field.
Living in different cities added to the stress. With all of the challenges, Evelyn said they made it work because "I knew he was the one."
They got married when she finished her residency program and he was in his third year. "The third year of residency is much easier than the first and second, but I was still gone a lot," said Tom. It was only a shadow of their future.
They live in Fremont and are members of St. Patrick Parish. Evelyn is a clinical audiologist and Tom is a family doctor in that community.
"His practice has been more difficult than the residency because he works a lot more than he did then," Evelyn said. "There have been seasons in this marriage where I have just taken one day at a time.
"I would think, I am here, and I am in this for today and I am just going to think about today right now. Then the next day, I'd say the same thing."
Those seasons came when their three sons were young, she said. "The stress of raising them and demanding careers was hard. There were some times when it took new resolve to stay together."
That resolve was born of love, she said. She remembered thinking, "regardless of the storms facing us, I loved this man and I wanted to be with him. He wasn't the cause of the problems."
"If I had to fight my way through the storms to stay with him, then that is what I was going to do," she said.
Both came to the relationship "from a perspective of valuing and acknowledging the goodness of the other person," Tom said.
They worked to carve out time for one another. Tom is a runner, so in the evenings, Evelyn and the boys would hop on bicycles and go with him. "That was a time we could talk," she said.
They had an occasional date night and a few trips without the children. Some trips didn't involve far off destinations. A trip to an Omaha museum or restaurant counted.
"We honored each other by choosing to be together in a relaxing way," said Evelyn.
Making conscious decisions about how to spend one's free time also showed love and commitment to the marriage, Tom said.
"People in the community got full attention - sometimes to the detriment of Evelyn and the boys...I tried to structure my life around them, so I spent what little free time I had with them," he said. "That meant I chose not to golf, go to poker night, or do other things - that was a choice.
As challenging as daily life could be, Tom said that the dark time of illness did not draw them apart, "it brought us together."
Between 2000 and 2003, Evelyn had three major health crises. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a recurrence a few months later. While she was undergoing chemotherapy, she contracted Hepatitis C from tainted syringes.
The crises were a catalyst for bringing all the good and their love to the forefront, said Tom. "During a time like that you are more needed, more cared for, more forgiving..." more aware of the love and mortality of the other person, he said.
Their 25th anniversary fell during this time, and they wanted to honor its significance. They chose to renew their wedding vows at Mount Michael Abbey near Elkhorn, she wearing her original wedding dress and he in his tuxedo.
"It was really during one of my sickest times," said Evelyn. "We celebrated that we were still here together. We wanted to make a point to our boys that marriage is a big deal and that staying together is really a worthy goal in life."
Additional good came out of Evelyn's illnesses. They started a foundation using the malpractice settlement from the tainted syringes. The foundation works to prevent Hepatitis C outbreaks caused by unsafe injection practices. Both speak at national healthcare professional's conferences, lobby Congress, and work with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It's very rewarding to have a shared passion and commitment to the greater good," said Evelyn.