Stephanie Madoff Mack and Mark Madoff had been married for four years when Mark's father, Bernie Madoff, was arrested in 2008 and charged with securities fraud for running an estimated $64 billion ponzi scheme. At the time, the couple had a two-year-old daughter, and Stephanie was pregnant with their son, Nicholas. The following is excerpted from the October 31st issue of People magazine, on newsstands now, and Stephanie Madoff Mack's new memoir, "The End of Normal: A Wife's Anguish, A Widow's New Life."
The emotional blow changed Mark from the very first day. His athletic shoulders curled inward, hunching him like an old man, and his handsome face aged overnight. A fault line of anger and distrust crossed his forehead. The smile that made me fall in love with him disappeared altogether. "Was my life real?" he would often ask.
Audrey turned four in November 2010. Her big gift came from my parents: a trip to Disney World for my mother, Audrey and me. She was beside herself with excitement. Mark was thrilled for her, and I felt a twinge of guilt about leaving him with the baby. "Do you wanna come" I offered.
"Naw, it should be an all girls thing," he said. "Nick and I will be having wild parties."
Just after 6:30 p.m. on December 10, Mark forwarded a Wall Street Journal article. MADOFF'S KIN EYED AS PROBE GRINDS ON, the headline read. "No idea that it was coming out. I am beyond devastated."
My heart felt like a stone. It wasn't the report itself that unhinged me -- it was a rehash of old news -- but Mark's response to it. It was like watching him disappear down the dark rabbit hole again. It scared me, and infuriated me. I sent a frustrated reply. "I CANNOT TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!"
"I'm doing my best to hold it together," Mark texted. "I need your help."
"I am turning my phone off," I told Mark. He could reach me through the hotel switchboard if needed. "Enjoy Trevor's party. Goodnight."
At 4:14 on Saturday morning, December 11, 2010 -- the second anniversary of his father's arrest -- Mark sent me three e-mails. I found two when I woke up around 6:45. The first said "Help" in the subject line. "Please send someone to take care of Nick." The next, sent three seconds later, was blank, with these words in bold in the subject line. I Love You.
My Mom was up, making coffee. "I got these weird e-mails from Mark," I told her shakily as I dialed Mark's numer. No answer. "Mom, something's wrong." I fought the rising panic, willing myself to stay calm.
My stepfather ... found Mark's body hanging from the steel beam that ran through the living room. He had fashioned a noose out of our dog Grouper's leash. A snapped cord from the vacuum cleaner was on a table nearby; apparently it had taken two tries. Nick was sleeping just a few steps away.
[When I told Audrey] I knew I had to be clear. "I have to tell you something, and it's really sad. Daddy died."
"What? Am I ever going to see my daddy again?"
Her huge eyes widened.
"No. I'm so sorry, honey."
Audrey looked at me in disbelief.
"I want to see my daddy!"
She began to cry.
It was after midnight when I grabbed every vase and porcelain knicknack I could hold and stood on the frozen lawn, hurling each useless treasure to the ground until everything lay smashed. Inside I found a favorite flannel shirt of Mark's. I put it on and fell asleep in the scent of him.
What if I hadn't gone to Disney World? What if I had pretended not to be annoyed by Mark's rant about the Wall Street Journal? I worry about the years, and questions, yet to come. Audrey doesn't remember her grandfather; Nick never knew him. I will tell them what he did to so many innocent people, and how he drove their father to his death when they are mature enough to understand such horrors.
Every Friday, I trek uptown with Audrey to see a child life specialist. "Keep Mark present," was her first advice to me about helping Nick and Audrey. What breaks my heart, heals theirs. Their nightstands hold two or three photographs of their father, and I sometimes find them clutching one in a small hand as they sleep.
This post is excerpted from the October 31st issue of People magazine, on newsstands now, and Stephanie Madoff Mack's new memoir, "The End of Normal: A Wife's Anguish, A Widow's New Life."