Susan Cislak McNulty was too young to be a widow, but there she was at 54. Her husband Mark passed away in 2016 from renal cancer. They had been married for 19 years.
Susan was not only dealing with the emotional loss, but all the finances and paperwork related to his death. During this time she received some advice, “You’re only 54, don’t get married until you’re 60 or you will lose his benefits.” At that point, getting remarried as not even on Susan’s mind.
Instead, she kept herself busy.
Before Mark’s death, she had been working part-time at the University of Richmond, but after his death she took a full-time job as an admin in the Department of Alumni and Career Services.
She also became more involved with her church, First Presbyterian. She became a deacon of the church in 2017 as well as the head of the bereavement committee. Unfortunately, Susan had become very familiar with loss. After Mark died, her mother passed in 2017 and her father in 2019. In addition, she had lost a brother much earlier in 2012.
Susan was head of the committee for two years, but realized she was ready to try something different. She told the minister, “I really don’t want to be labeled as a widow, I just want to be Susan.” Susan said. “I just had to move on.”
So, she made the change and became head of the Youth Council working with the kids and their parents. The parents were closer to Susan’s age and she enjoyed the transition.
In addition, Susan was involved as an advisor for her sorority Delta Gamma at the University of Richmond.
Susan had a full life between work, activities and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels — George and Sophie.
Even though Susan’s life was full, she knew something was missing, “The house is awfully quiet,” Susan said. She also missed traveling and sharing the experience with a significant other.
Susan’s co-workers at the College tried to get her to put together an online dating profile, but she wasn’t ready. Another colleague told them, “Susan will get you when she’s ready.”
Susan had started flirting a little, but nothing came of it.
A Chance Encounter
Susan was considering creating a profile when she received an invitation to one of Mark’s family member’s wedding. Her sister-in-law called to personally ask her to come. “She said you would be the only person there representing the siblings (Mark was one of four children),” Susan said. So, she decided to take the trip down to Savannah.
Susan was enjoying her time in Savannah and reconnecting with family members she hadn’t seen since Mark’s funeral. She had brought with her several family heirlooms for the groom and presented them at the rehearsal dinner that night. While she was doing so, Joe walked by. He stopped to listen to the history of the items that Susan was telling the couple. After that, she and Joe began to talk.
Susan said she felt comfortable talking to Joe because she was surrounded by family. She thought, “He’s kind if cute, maybe I’ll sit next to him tomorrow at the wedding.”
The wedding and the reception were all at one location and indeed she did sit next him thanks to some maneuvering by her sister-in-law.
Susan found out that Joe was an old family friend. He and her brother-in-law had been fraternity brother’s at Susan’s alma mater, DePauw University.
After a night of talking and dancing, Susan knew there was something special about him. They made plans to go on the on a trolley tour together around the city the next day. Before the night ended, he gave her a kiss. Her niece said, “He kissed you.” Susan said, “I know.”
Susan had recently turned 60.
On the trolley ride, Joe asked her out for lunch. Her sister-in-law said, “You should definitely go, he’s such a gentleman.” Afterwards, they took a walk around Savannah. They had been together for 8 hours and then went out with the group to watch basketball.
Before they left Savannah, Susan invited him to visit her in Richmond before. He called her that day to make sure she had arrived home ok and then on Tuesday of the next week, he sent her a bouquet of roses. Three weeks later her came for a visit.
Joe came down to Richmond for a visit and then Susan returned to Indianapolis for a visit and to see the Indianapolis 500.
On his next visit Richmond, June 19th, he pulled a light up ring out of his suitcase and proposed! Because another family member had used it before, he told Susan, “It’s a family heirloom.” Susan said, “Really! Yes, I will.”
Because Joe’s work allowed him to work from anywhere, there was no problem for him moving to Richmond, except that he had lived his entire life in Indianapolis. His house sold in one day and he was ready to make the transition. Joe has never been married before. He told Susan he grew up at 64.
But their fairytale was not without a few bumps. On one of Joe’s visits, he brought his dog. They thought the three dogs would be ok together, but Joe’s dog attacked and killed Susan’s dog George. Susan found her dog under the piano when she returned home. When Susan called Joe about the attack he said, “Do you still want to marry me?” The answer was yes.
So Sophie is a single dog.
Joe had lived his whole life in Indiana where Susan grew up. The more they talked, the more they realize how many connections in common. It was surprising they had never met before.
They said I do on 11/22/22. “It was a Tuesday,” Susan said.
Joe wanted a big wedding. He wanted five groomsmen. “I said, ok, it’s your first marriage, so I guess I have to find 5 bridesmaids,” Susan said.
How is married life? Susan said she realized that he treats her the same way her father treated her mother. He is very attentive, but she warns him,”You can’t put me on a pedestal.” But he says, “But I love you.
That is not to say that they never disagree. Susan admits, she does have a temper. But Joe said she has an Irish temper. “You’re quick to flash, but you’re quick to forgive.”
Mark’s family has been very supportive of Susan’s marriage to Joe. Before Mark passed, he made her promise that she would at least date. “He didn’t want me to be the mournful widow,” Susan said.
“Before he died, he said he would be ok if I remarried.”
Susan said she is glad she made the decision to date again. “You just have to put yourself out there,” she said.
“It’s nice opening the door and knowing someone is there,” Susan said. She added, “I love cooking for someone and he likes my cooking.”
Joe told Susan the best part of being married is falling sleep next to her and waking up and she is there. He said he wants to be the husband she has the longest time. She replied “Then you have to live 20 years. ” He said he was ok with that.
There’s planning a custom planned honeymoon in Ireland this summer.
“I think it is a match made in heaven for us,” Susan said.
When she was traveling back from Savannah, her engagement ring broke. Her friend said, “That’s Mark telling you it’s ok.
As a token of her love for these two men, they designed an engagement ring with Mark’s diamond in the middle and a new setting with additional diamonds.
A friend at church said, “You have the loves of your life on one hand.”