A Spokane couple reflects on their 30-year marriage and how they first met

click to enlarge A Spokane couple reflects on their 30-year marriage and how they first met
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Laurel and Tim Warner now (top) and then.

"Tim Warner," she says in the direction of his home office, her playful smile belying her deadpan tone.

I've invaded the home of my friend, Laurel Warner, and her husband, Tim, to find out how they've made it to 30 years married, including navigating a pretty serious health issue. Knowing Laurel, I know humor plays a big part.

After some catch-up chitchat, and still no Tim, Laurel says it again: "Tim Warner." This time, he appears with an appeasing grin.

We sit at the table, and while I know their story is going to be sweeter than I realized, as it unfolds she tells me that his full name, Tim Warner, is her "nickname" for him. I can't help but feel like this is because these are two of her most beloved words, and that every time she says them, it's like she's reminding herself just how lucky she is that Tim Warner chose her.

It's the first day of kindergarten. Laurel sees him across the hallway. Tim's really not happy to be there. She feels quite the opposite, and so the love affair begins.

First grade rolls around and the two become inseparable, hanging out at recess, throwing tennis balls against the wall.

"We were just friends, but I didn't hang out with any other girls," Tim says. "We were just always that way."

By middle school he wants to ask her out, but it's not until high school that he finally gets the nerve to tell her how he feels.

"He would write me long letters about why we needed to be together and what he saw in me, and he would leave them on my car," Laurel says.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family, it was hard for Laurel to accept that he saw so much in her.

"I thought he was out of my league because I was so crazy in high school and he was so calm," she says. "From the get-go, he was different from the rest. He didn't try to buy me flowers or outdo anyone... It was just about being together."

By their second date she knew Tim was the one. But in the summer before their junior year, Laurel's mom died unexpectedly, throwing her whole life into a tailspin. She rebelled, transferring from schools, partying nonstop and spending almost every Saturday in detention.

"She was definitely a little too much for me then," Tim says. "We didn't really talk."

Then, after a wild year, Laurel returned to West Valley and worked hard to graduate with her class.

"We talked about getting back together, but I was still dating someone else," she says. "I remember Tim asking me, 'What are you doing?!' And I said, 'I really don't know.' But he waited. He was so patient. This is why I wholeheartedly believe he was hand-picked by God and my mom — because I needed that stability."

After graduating and finally together, Tim and Laurel headed to Eastern Washington University, feeling like things were finally starting to go their way. But again, life had other plans.

At the age of 20, Tim was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia, his heart beating too fast to pump enough oxygenated blood through his body.

"I had [tachycardia] four times in 10 days," he says. "It usually kills you the first time. Even though they told me I would need a heart transplant someday, it seemed so far away and I was so active, it didn't slow me down."

Even with this looming reality, the two fell into somewhat of a normal life, getting married three years later. Fast-forward through years of long workdays and staying active, and at 33 years old Tim was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

"We were moving into our newly built house, talking about having kids... and I'm like, 'Is this really happening now?!'" Laurel recalls.

They decided to have kids first and get Tim on a heart transplant waitlist.

"When you get a heart transplant, if it doesn't take, you're done," Tim says. "We had two young boys by this time. I wanted to monitor the technology, which just kept getting better."

Ten years later, it was Tim's turn for a transplant. This year, the couple celebrated the 10th anniversary of that very surreal time in their life.

"After he got his new heart, I fell in love with him all over again," Laurel says. "Our life just evolved so drastically. Four months post-transplant, we were hiking, biking — things we hadn't been able to do as a family, ever."

"If anything, something like this draws you closer," Tim says. "Before, I couldn't imagine going through life without her, but now it's a whole new level. It's indescribable." ♦

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