TRANSCRIPT

Love After Loss: The Courage to Find Love After Widowhood

(Podcast #007)

Please forgive typos. Transcripts are created by an automated service.

 

Steve Shavkin:

It really is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Very true.

 

Steve Shavkin:

So take a chance guys, you know, make that phone call... or girls. I mean the phone works both ways. So it's okay for her to call him too.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I would have called you for coffee.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a board certified clinical psychologist and I specialize with older adults and families. I created the Psychology of Aging podcast to answer some of the most common questions I get about aging. Questions about mental health and wellness, changes in the brain like with dementia, relationships and sex, caregiving, and even end of life. Like I say in my therapy groups, no topic is off topic, we just have to have a healthy way of talking about it. So if you're an older adult or caring for one, you're in the right place. Let's get started.

 

Over the past few weeks I've been sharing a lot about grief and loss during COVID and for all of you who are grieving. I share loads of information and resources just for you in my show notes, so please check them out if you're grieving or if you're supporting someone who's grieving during COVID. Today. I'm sharing a different kind of story. I'm sharing a story of love after loss. So let me ask you, have you ever wondered what it's like to date in older adulthood? Or wondered what it's like to be married for more than 50 years, become a widow and then have the courage to put yourself out there and find love again? Well, today is a very special day because I get to introduce you to Steve and Marie, a new couple who found love after loss in their late seventies and in today's episode, Steve and Marie share their love story and give us insight into their journey from grieving to finding love again.

 

Marie Ciofalo was born at Manhattan general hospital on August 4th, 1942 and is 77 years old. She was married for 50 years until her husband Andrew passed away in November, 2011. Together, they had a daughter and a son and four grandchildren. Marie enjoys playing music and loves to dance and suddenly her entire world changed when she met Steve. Steve Shavkin was born at Beth Israel hospital in Manhattan on July 13th, 1941 he's 78 years old and worked as a civil engineer for 40 years for the New York State Department of Transportation retiring in 2000. His wife of 51 years, Diane, passed away in May, 2016. Together, Steve and Diane had two beautiful daughters and two grandsons and then about three months ago something happened that changed Steve's life completely. He fell head over heels in love.

 

Steve and Marie, thank you so much for offering your time and your love story for me and all of our listeners, it's a beautiful thing to find love after loss. You were both married for 50 or more years...

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yeah, Marie for 50 and me for 51, so long time.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

And then you found each other. How did you guys meet?

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Okay, we met approximately three years ago at the Elk's club and we were very friendly there. We were at many functions together. Steve DJ'ed there. And from there, I one day got a phone call asking if I would like to have a cup of coffee. And I was so excited over that cup of coffee, which we did meet and we spent three hours having coffee and talking and getting to know each other. And it was an instant attraction. Even before that cup of coffee

 

Steve Shavkin:

There was something brewing, no pun intended, but there was something in advance of that getting together for coffee thing that we both kind of felt. So

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Let me pause here for a minute. Just to clarify that three years ago, Steve and Marie met at the Elk's Club and then three years later, Steve called and asked Marie out on a date.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yes, yes, yes it was about 3 years.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Wow. Absolutely. So did you guys flirt in between? Or how often did you see each other?

 

Marie Ciofalo:

We danced, we flirted, had conversations.

 

Steve Shavkin:

But it took, it took courage for me to make that phone call because I was afraid I might, I might be rejected or get a no. And although, I don't consider myself shy or anything nobody likes to, nobody likes to be rejected. But when she said yes, I'd love to, I was off and running

 

Marie Ciofalo:

And I was all set to go. So that was a wonderful thing that happened. Definitely.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Oh my gosh. How special. And so, so Steve, the reason you didn't ask is because it took some time to get the courage. You worried about the no.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Well that was, that was part of it. Also Marie was seeing somebody casually I think before I had asked her. So, uh, I didn't know what her status was with the other fella, but I figured Columbus took a chance. So.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp

you only live once.

 

Steve Shavkin:

That's right.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Very true.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Absolutely right.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

So let me pause here again because in this moment I asked "how have people responded to the two of you dating?" And here's what they said.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Everybody was thrilled.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Everybody exactly. So happy for us and our friends, our family, everyone. No one had anything negative to say or think about. It was all positive.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Of course. It might have something to do with the fact that we walk around with smiles on our face 24/7. But yeah, everybody, like Marie said, everybody has been just so supportive and so happy for us. And that makes a big difference.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

There is someone out there who cares about me and loves me and I can return the same love and the same caring and it fills my life.

 

Steve Shavkin:

And I could say ditto to that. And one thing that I realized right away, and I think Marie did, too, the fact that we're almost the same age, I'm a year older than Marie, we have so much in common. So much life experience has been the same that it was, you know, it was meant to be.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Will you share how old you each are?

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Sure. I'm 77

 

Steve Shavkin:

And I'm 78 going on 39. That's how makes me feel, she really does.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

So how is mature love different than young love? You know, you're finding love in your late seventies, and when you got married to your first spouses you were young in your twenties, right? So how is mature love different for you?

 

Steve Shavkin:

The first thing that comes to mind, it's more intense, absolutely more intense. And, uh, it's just, it's just a different feeling. It's, it's hard to put into words. Uh, but it's a very, very, it's a closeness that I don't remember feeling when I was 21 when I got married. Not that I didn't love my wife of course, but, but there is something about this time of life when you meet somebody that is just very, very different and very, very special. So,

 

Marie Ciofalo:

and it's very deep, also.

 

Steve Shavkin:

We anticipated your question and thought we might have a problem with that. And obviously you can see we're struggling a little bit cause it's hard. It really is hard to put into words. So

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Yeah. It's hard to articulate. What would you say Marie, what's the big difference for you? The depth?

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I don't think I could say anything differently than what Steve has said. It's a very intense, deep feeling of love. Definitely.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp

And so both of you lost your spouses after 50 and 51 year. After that, did you believe that you could find love again or what was that like? And then how did you know you were ready?

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I think that takes time because what you are looking for is a relationship. And of course you don't know right away if that relationship will work, how you feel. It's working your way to the ultimate feeling of being in love with this person. And that is how I felt it was. What about you? (to Steve)

 

Steve Shavkin:

Uh, I don't know. When, when my wife was ill, we had hospice come in and after she passed away, I was involved with, um, group therapy at hospice for about a year. And, um, I met some really, really nice people, uh, and I still get together with them a couple of times a month. There are about 45 of us now that we call, we call ourselves the alumni, the alumni group from hospice. And, um, but what was, was I actually thinking, I hope I meet somebody? I can't really say that I was, it was more like, if it happens then, then I will pursue it. But I wasn't, um, I wasn't really thinking. Yeah, it wasn't really focusing on finding a, another mate, let's put it that way. Then this woman comes along and I realize that that's, that's it Steve. That's it. I drew a circle for Marie one time and I left a gap in the circle.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Right.

 

Steve Shavkin:

And I said, when I complete the circle, that's when I met you. The circle was complete. So.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Very emotional feeling. it is. Very loving.

 

Steve Shavkin:

And, I have to add, she makes a great meatloaf.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp

Well, I might marry you then...

 

Steve Shavkin:

But it's absolutely a life changing experience. It really is. And uh, we, we have, I guess I can, we have pledged our love to each other until the end, I don't think I would ever waiver for a second from that feeling. And I don't know.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

No, I would never. The love is very deep, very sincere... on my end and I feel it on Steve's end also.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Oh yeah. There's such mutuality between you. It's beautiful.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yeah. There's never any doubt about how we feel about each other and that's a really, really good feeling.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Absolutely.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Now I'm going to ask a question on the other side of the coin about what messages did you receive in your lifetime about what was possible in love after 75, you know, 75 just being like, as an older adult, what did you even hear was possible?

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I don't know. I don't recall any. First of all, I think when you're younger, like when we got married we were so much younger, 75 sounds like an age that is so far ahead of even thinking about, that you don't think of it, you know

 

Steve Shavkin:

Never, never really thought about what it would be like to fall in love, you know, later in life. Like we have just never, it never occurred to me to, to consider that, but it's certainly a wonderful, wonderful thing when it happens. Yeah.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Did you always believe it was possible or did you have doubts that it would be possible?

 

Steve Shavkin:

I never had any doubts and part, part of the reason I say that is I know some people who have gotten together, uh, in their eighties. There's a couple from the hospice group that, um, that hooked up and they're both in their eighties and they are madly in love with each other. So we're youngsters compared to them. That's my goal is to, is to make Marie as happy as I possibly can.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

And you do.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Because that gives me pleasure to do that. I know that might sound corny, but it's the truth. It's the truth.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

No, I think you just want every woman's heart in America.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

When we started talking about the possibility of having this interview today, you sent me a letter.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yes.

 

New Speaker:

Will you read the letter?

 

Steve Shavkin:

Sure. Um, Tennyson said that 'tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. If you have never experienced true love, then you have never felt whole and complete. At least that is what I have found to be true in my 78 years. I'm not talking about family love for your family is built into the fabric of one's life. I'm talking about meeting someone, maybe someone who you have known casually who, as they say,suddenly rocks your world. In my most recent encounters, the first being a three hour getting to know you better over coffee kind of thing and the second a lunch date with her turned out to be for both of us, the beginning of an intense closeness that I haven't felt as far back as I can recall. I asked her just the other day what had happened between the two of us and she said she honestly didn't know. I sure don't either. Maybe it's not important to know, but to embrace and nurture the feelings that we have for one another. She is in my thoughts constantly fueled by the way she holds her eyes when she looks at me or that smile that makes me feel so special. All I can tell you is that in just 16 days, I have come to love this woman more than anyone could imagine. People on the street must notice the smile on my face sometimes and wonder what I'm thinking about. Or maybe some of them just know. I hope of course that we will be as one forever, but if life comes along and somehow changes all of this, I will have known true love in its most perfect form. Oh, by the way, her name is Marie

 

Marie Ciofalo:

So beautiful and heartwarming. It's on a frame in a frame on my TV and it's going on the wall next to our picture along with about 12 of the love letters I have received.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yeah, I told Marie she's going to have to consider getting an addition put on the house cause she needs the room for more frames

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

For all the love letters and pictures.

 

Steve Shavkin:

For all the love letters. Yes.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

How often do you write a love letter to her?

 

Steve Shavkin:

Well, um, quite often actually I woke up this morning and I had been thinking about something I wanted to put on paper and I finished it, uh, in about an hour or so. And what I would like to do, cause Marie has not heard it, I would like to at the end of the interview, read it to her.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Have you always written love letters or is this relationship something special?

 

Steve Shavkin:

I have never written love letters in my entire life until January of this year.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp

Whoa.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

And they're all so beautiful. Every word.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yeah. I would write, uh, you know, I would give my wife a, you know, a Valentine card or Hanukkah card, whatever it might be. And they would always have something very nice romantic to say. But I've never written letters to anybody until I met Marie.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I love every one of them.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Oh, you know, you two have such a great exchange. I mean you're both so mutually adoring. It's, it's so lovely.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Thank you.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Thank you. Definitely.

 

Steve Shavkin:

She's a pretty special lady. She really is.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

And you are extremely special to me. Love you forever.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Really your love is helping me to remember all of the tender moments and these cherished moments early in a relationship that in the stress of life just gets kind of faded out of the picture. And just hearing your connection that the two of you have and the love that you're sharing between each other is just so inspiring. Like inspiring me to love my husband more deeply. So thank you for that. And I hope that it also inspires other people over 75 to have courage to reach out and if somebody interests them to take a risk and...

 

Marie Ciofalo:

right.

 

Steve Shavkin:

You took the words out of my mouth because they really need to do that and you know, it really is better to have loved and lost than never, never have loved it. So take a chance guys, you know, make that phone call or girls, the phone works both ways, so it's okay for her to call him too.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I would have called you for coffee.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Can I ask? So you tell me if this is too personal and I can edit it out. Now, I work with a lot of people who are caring for a dying spouse and you know, a long-term marriage is very different than a new relationship and, and, and having a 50 year marriage and at the end of it, caring for a loved your partner who, or your spouse who is dying is very, it's a level of intimacy that's very different than the kind of intimacy you're sharing now. And I, I wonder if you would be open to talking a little bit about the journey with that because, finding love after loss. And I heard and I heard you sharing that it takes time. Marie, you were saying it does take time. Steve, you were also sharing about the time that you took in hospice and sort of connecting with the grief and getting support around the grief and having a community of other folks who were grieving and that being an important part of your process. I hear from a lot of, uh, spouses that finding love after their long-term, husband or wife dies... of... there's some feelings of guilt or, um, reluctance, like you're betraying somehow that relationship. And I'm curious, I can edit this out if it's too intense to answer, but did you ever, did you struggle with that at all or what was your journey like with that?

 

Steve Shavkin:

I didn't struggle with it, but people that I know have a real problem with it. Letting go is maybe one way to put it. They still feel that somehow if they meet somebody and have feelings for that person, they're cheating on their spouse.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp

That there is a betrayal happening.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Right. And it happened, uh, just it happened on, just a few days ago. Uh, I have a girl that sits in with me on my show from time to time and uh, when I mentioned, and she knows Marie, she's met Marie a number of times. When I said to her, she's the love of my life. She said, I thought your wife was the love of your life. And I said she was, but she's not here anymore. She's gone and there's no way, you know, that she's ever coming back and I need to, I need to move on. And if I meet somebody then, then that's a fabulous thing. And that's what happened. So, but there, there, there are lots of people that will not even consider a relationship just for that very fact that they feel, you know, they feel they're betraying their spouse.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Yeah. And this sense that even somebody who's outside of your relationship has an idea of your wife being the love of her life. So then you couldn't have a new love. I love this distinction that you're making, that, um, your wife was the love of your life and in that life and this life without your wife, you're, you have permission to find new love and connection.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yep. One thing that the, uh, the therapist who was running the hospice group said that really hit home with me. And this was pretty, uh, pretty close to the beginning of my attending the group therapy. She said, your spouse is never coming back. You know? And even though everybody knew that, just hearing somebody say it, you know, to validate that that feeling was really hit home with me because you, you know, you're always hoping, especially in the beginning, maybe they're going to come through that door. You know, maybe this thing is like a bad dream

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Right. That's true. And one thing my doctor did was talking to me when my husband first passed away. It was maybe about six months afterwards and he had asked me if I was seeing anybody. And I said no. So he said to me, which was very impressive and you've had a good relationship. They don't want me to be sitting home depressed and sad. They want you to go on with your life. And his words were very impressive to me and very true. And that, that made a big impact on my thinking also.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yeah. that's a really good point. It is.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Yeah. The people in your world normalizing that it's, it's okay. It's a healthy thing to seek connection and relationships. Your deceased spouse would not want you wallowing and lamenting this loss forever. I think there's a healthy grief process that includes some of that. And then there's reclaiming your life and creating a life worth living.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yes. Yeah.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

I do therapy with older adults. My practice is all with older adults and I hear so often from older adults who have lost a spouse or have been single for a long time. A reluctance to um, take that step or take the risk. And I know we touched on it a little bit, but hearing from you and what you would say to an older adult who's on the fence about finding love or on the fence about asking for a coffee date, and just seeing what happens, what would you say?

 

Steve Shavkin:

I would say take a chance because you will not know unless you make that first step.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

And… I'm sorry.

 

Steve Shavkin:

No. No. Go ahead.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

And to be positive with that first step, right. Because Steve is right. You won't know if you don't do it. And you might always wonder. So if you take the step, you'll know one way or the other.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Yeah. And I think talking to people like us makes it makes a big difference also because they see that, wow, these guys are really happy. Maybe I will, you know, get off the fence and take a chance and see what happens.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Research tells us that older adults who are engaged in an intimate relationship and intimacy can have many forms, um, are healthier, happier, more successful. They actually have lower risk of depression, uh, and lower risk of dementia. And as humans, we're relational beings. We're supposed to connect with people. We're supposed to reach to other people for love and comfort. And um, I love that you're saying and perhaps other older adults who listen and just hearing your story will help open the door for them. And I, and I hope that people also hear how many benefits there are.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

You're not just existing, you're living and enjoying and feeling very happy. Definitely

 

Steve Shavkin:

And you're feeding each other, you're giving each other something that we absolutely need and that just makes us feel so, so good.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Absolutely.

 

Steve Shavkin:

I know I say the same thing over and over, but that's, that's the way it is. That's the way we feel. And like you said, if it inspires, you know ... I used to, I used to teach, I used to be a facilitator for the American cancer society is to help people quit smoking. And I, I always said to myself, if one person in my class quit, I'm a happy guy. Right? So if one person sees this video and decides, you know what, I'm going to call so and so and see if she wants that cup of coffee is, that seems to be the universal way that people get together. Have a cup of coffee. Yeah. Maybe it'll happen to somebody. That would be cool.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Well I hope so. I and I hope they're as happy as we are together.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Well Steve, will you read to us your, your love letter from today?

 

Steve Shavkin:

I will

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Well look at that right on the back of the other one and I didn't see it.

 

Steve Shavkin:

It's nearing the end of February and we are about eight weeks into the relationship. I'm not sure why, but for some reason I equate it to a NASA mission. Why were we selected? Two people on a journey to places unknown. Lift off was on December 30th, 2019. I remember it being a mixture of rain and snow that day as we peered out the capsule small window and suddenly a hailstorm was upon us. Too late, no aborting now. I took her hand in mine to reassure her that there was nothing to be afraid of. We were on this glorious adventure together. After almost two months, earth is just a faint speck in the darkness like our lives back then. Each day that passes brings us closer to the realization that we will be as one forever. The bond between us is awesome. We can never know what each new day will bring, but secure in knowing that it will be spectacular like the view from our little spacecraft. I adore you, Marie.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

That is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for that.

 

Steve Shavkin:

My favorite two lines are I said, uh, after almost two months earth, just a faint speck in the darkness like our lives back then.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

So true.

 

Steve Shavkin:

We have left our lives that were then and now is what's important and going forward is what's important.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Absolutely. Thank you so much. That's beautiful. Thank you.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Just for the record, um, it's already a frame.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Call the architect.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Its going up on the wall. Definitely.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Call the architect build that, build that special room does for your love letters.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

It's funny because that day when it started to hail, we didn't even realize... We were sitting by the door and we did not realize what was happening. Steve thought it was thunder. Was it? Meantime, my cell phone rang and my daughter called me because the hail was coming down and she said, mom, do you see what it's doing outside? I said to Steve, Oh my God, look what it's doing. It's hailing out there we were oblivious to the hail. Initially.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

You were so focused on each other.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Exactly. Exactly.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

So what are your hopes for your relationship going forward?

 

Steve Shavkin:

To continue to enjoy each other as much as we can every single day.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

I agree. Absolutely. Make each other happy and enjoy each other and be there for each other for whatever it is.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

I hope that this inspires many people to embrace new relationships or reinvigorate their longtime relationship. And if people have lost a spouse after 50 years or longer, that they're inspired to take a risk and see what else life and love have to offer.

 

Steve Shavkin:

Well put.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

Absolutely.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Well you're the artist here, Steve. I am just hanging on your coat tails.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Thank you so much for your time and your openness today and your willingness to share your love story with everybody. It's really so special. It really is.

 

Marie Ciofalo:

It is. And it was a pleasure meeting you here and talking with you.

 

Dr. Regina Koepp:

Love for Steve and Marie does not have to end here. Head on over to my show notes to see the love letters Steve shared today and a love letter that Marie wrote to Steve after I recorded this interview. I also wanted to give you an update about Steve and Marie.. I recorded this episode in February 2020 before the Coronavirus was in full force and at the end of March when I edited this episode Steve and Marie were healthy and remaining hopeful in the midst of Coronavirus. If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe so you'll be the first to know when new episodes are released and then leave a review. Subscriptions and reviews actually help people to find this show. In wrapping up, I need to share that the ideas expressed in this episode are mine and mine alone, and that the information shared doesn't take the place of licensed medical or mental health care. I'll see you next week. Same time, same place, lots of love to you and your family and Steve and Marie. Bye for now.

 

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