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Why Andrew Madoff's Fiancée Hasn't Watched New HBO Movie About His Father — and How She Has Rebuilt Her Life

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For Catherine Hooper, recovering from the death of  her fiancé, Andrew Madoff has gotten harder as time has passed, not easier.

“It’s been pretty awful,” Hooper 44, tells PEOPLE. “It’s not to say that you don’t find your peace with it but it has been really, really difficult. Sometimes I think it’s harder even now than it was at the first early moments. It’s the reality of what life is like without this person. You built so many dreams with them. There are moments that it’s so painful that I can’t tell him something funny that has happened.”

Hooper and Andrew, who died of mantle cell lymphoma in September 2014 at age 48, had just gotten engaged in 2008 when his father, Bernie, confessed to Andrew and brother Mark that he’d been running a Ponzi scheme for years.

Andrew and Mark, who were traders in Bernie’s market-making operation and were never charged with any crimes, then had the difficult task for turning in their own father to federal authorities. (Mark committed suicide in 2010.)

“We never hesitated,” Andrew told PEOPLE in 2013. “The decision was at the same time the easiest decision I ever had to make and the hardest.”

Andrew said he would never forgive his father for his crimes — and stayed true to that until his last breath, Hooper says, despite a one-line apology letter they got from Bernie in February 2012.

“It just said, ‘Andy and Catherine, I’m so sorry for everything.  Dad,’ ” she says. “Both of us just looked at it. It was almost funny because he was apologizing like he stepped on someone’s toe. It was just so inadequate. It was just like, ‘Can you believe it?’ ”

Bernie Madoff’s brief apology letter.

Andrew never heard from him again, she says, even after he went public with his relapse with cancer with PEOPLE in 2013. (Bernie Madoff’s attorney, Ira Sorkin, did not respond to a request for comment).

New HBO Movie Stirs Emotions

In March 2009 Bernie Madoff, now 79, pleaded guilty to running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme and defrauding tens of thousands of people out of $20 billion. He is currently serving a 150-year sentence at a federal prison in Butner, N.C.

On May 21, HBO premiered The Wizard of Lies, a movie about the infamous scandal.

The film — and the accompanying publicity —  has brought up even more feelings, which is why she decided not to watch it.

“I was really planning to watch it but then I had a talk with my daughter and we just felt like it would be too emotional right now, and I could wait a couple of months,” she says.

She says she met with Robert DeNiro, the actor who portrays Bernie Madoff, and Lily Rabe, the actress who plays her, and feels confident they did a “good” and “fair”  job.

“With the story being back in the news, there’s a lot of family communication,” she says. “Everyone just feels really sensitive right now and in a couple of months we’ll go back to nobody caring. I can watch it in privacy and not be thinking of what some reviewer said.”

Writing Books and Living in Studio Apartment

Making it even more difficult at times are the misconceptions that are still out there about her late fiancé — and herself. Though it was reported she was to start getting $50,000 a month from Andrew’s estate 30 days after he died, according to Andrew’s will, she has not yet received a penny and may never at all. The estate is still tied up with the seemingly never-ending lawsuits attached to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, she says. (Attorneys contacted by PEOPLE did not respond to requests for comment).

Catherine Hooper and Andrew Madoff in Utah

In the wake of Andrew’s death, Hooper moved out of the luxurious apartment she shares with him and into a 500-square foot studio apartment in Manhattan where she and her now 12-year-old daughter sleep in bunk beds, she says. (For the last several months, the pair has been living in the Bahamas for her daughter’s school marine biology program.)

“I downsized my life completely, and sold nearly everything I own including the engagement ring that Andrew gave me,” she says.

But, she says, “the adjustment in lifestyle is completely insignificant compared to the pain of losing him.”

After the scandal broke in December 2008, her engagement to Andrew remained on hold —as did his divorce from his first wife — until his death in September 2013, due to litigation related to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Hooper also had to reinvent herself. She sold Black Umbrella, a disaster preparedness business she and Andrew ran together, in 2016, but she still has a 20 percent share in it. She also began writing fiction under the pen name Carolina Carter.

“I did look for a job outside of writing first,” she says. “Honestly, despite my qualifications, every company that interviewed me politely told me that they could never put me in front of clients with a background connected to him. Sometimes standing up for what’s right isn’t the best career move, but I would never change it. And my readers love my books — they don’t really care what my fiancé’s father did ten years ago.”

Her latest book, After Him, will be released June 2. It is about a widow starting her life over after her husband dies, and it draws loosely on her experiences mourning Andrew.

Courtesy Catherine Hooper

“It was not autobiographical by any means, but I was able to talk about the experience of losing someone for the first time,” she says. “Honestly it was so emotional to write about. And I hadn’t realized it was with me to that degree. Having creativity is a way to access those feelings. You don’t want to walk around feeling them, but having these private creative moments made me realize how incredibly hard it has been.”

Catherine Hooper
R. Shilkus

Knowing that the HBO movie was coming out, she sent an email out to her readers letting them know of her connection to the infamous case.

“I’ve got about 6,000 readers that are interested in my books,” she says. “When I sent an email to my readers last week the response fell into two camps. One was, ‘Oh my God. Sorry for everything you went through.’ The second one was a big yawn. Not a single person was, ‘It’s those terrible crimes.’ No one cared.”

‘Andrew Was Absolutely a Hero’

Hooper says she has been on a few dates but is not in a relationship and has not been in one since his death.

“Sometimes I think I am ready but, especially after doing this book, I’m realizing I might need a little more time,” she says.

Meanwhile, the scandal drags on and stories still emerge every now and then that say Andrew knew what his father was doing, which Andrew denied until his death. (Dawn Dearden, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office in New York City,  declined to comment on the case).

“If they could have pinned something on him, they would have done it,” she says. “They were after him relentlessly and they never came up with anything. So yeah, I would love it if he had been recognized in his lifetime for the whistleblower he was and the enormous amount of personal strength it took him to turn in his father to the FBI, and at the most emotional moment of this life.

“I think there are very few people who’d have that presence of mind and strength,” she adds. “Andrew was absolutely a hero for what he did. So yeah, of course I wish he’d been recognized for what he did..but he wasn’t and you just can’t dwell on that.”