Courtesy Jason Rosenthal
En español | In 2017, Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote a heart-wrenching essay for the New York Times' Modern Love section called “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” In it, Amy, 51, a prolific children's-book author and filmmaker who was in the final stage of ovarian cancer, explained, personal-ad style, why her dedicated spouse of 26 years, Jason Rosenthal, would make someone a wonderful husband. ("Wait. Did I mention that he is incredibly handsome?” she queried.) Her mission: To give Jason very public permission to find happiness — and love — after she died.
The poignant piece went viral and was read by millions worldwide. Sadly, Amy passed away 10 days later.
In the aftermath of the New York Times article and Amy's passing, Jason and Amy's love story garnered much attention. He received thousands of letters from readers — some expressing their condolences; others, their personal interest in him. A lawyer by trade, he found his experience catapulted him on a different journey, in which he gave a deeply personal TED talk and wrote and spoke about grief and living through loss. In his memoir, My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, Jason, 55, speaks to his role as Amy's caregiver and his new life as a widower and single father of three.
One of the reasons you wanted to write this book was to help people through “their own personal darkness.” Has talking about Amy, her illness and her passing helped with your grief?
Jason Rosenthal: I am asked this often, even from my own family. It took me a while, but I have gotten to a place where I just deeply appreciate what I had with Amy and the amazing life we had together, full of love and joy, whimsy and family. And so, I don't mind returning to talking about Amy, even as I move forward in my life, because she really is someone who should be spoken about. Not just her death but her life. She lived such a beautiful, beautiful life.
How did you handle becoming your wife's caregiver?
JR: I don't feel like there is any type of guidebook, so I just plunged right into it. I had such a deep love for Amy that I wanted her end of life to be as comfortable and beautiful as it possibly could be.
At AARP we advise assembling a caregiving team. Did you have one?
JR: Home hospice gives you some assistance, but to be honest with you, it was not where I found a source of comfort. I found comfort with my daughter [Paris], who basically took off time from college and came to be with us in home hospice. She was really my partner in taking care of Amy. And my mother-in-law, of course, who was with me at most doctor's appointments, taking copious notes and being her incredible self. So, it was mostly the three of us, as well as my two boys, Miles and Justin.
What is something you learned through hospice?
JR: You need to do what's best for you and your family. So, for example, music was a huge part of our lives together, so I instinctively just called up a couple of resources. One of my friends is a world-renowned blues musician, and we brought him in with a buddy to play some music for Amy. And we had a music therapist come in every week, and I asked her to learn some songs that Amy really liked.
In the book, you highlight the unique ways friends reached out during Amy's illness.
JR: A buddy of mine, he may not be the most expressive guy, but he sent me some of his favorite song lyrics periodically, and they were beautiful, talking about love and friendship. Another really good friend of ours, without expecting anything in return, dropped off at our house every Saturday, while Amy was in hospice, three random yellow items — everything from a package of mustard to a rubber ducky to a yellow baseball [a yellow umbrella is Amy's legacy symbol].
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As a couple, you talked openly about end-of-life wishes. Most people are afraid to discuss that.
JR: Oh my God, are they ever! I encourage people throughout my public speaking life to have these discussions younger, when you're healthy and when you have your memory and your health. We did have time — so many people don't have that time. We talked about what kind of service Amy wanted. Did she want music to be played? If so, should I just pick songs? Did she want certain people to speak? Things like that. It was very important to me.
After Amy died, you started having panic attacks. What do you tell people about the grieving process?
JR: I didn't have much experience with loss, but what I would say is, give yourself a break. Grief is a very heavy-handed beast, and it will hit you so hard. You will probably live the rest of your life weaving in and out of some form of grief if the person you lost is meaningful to you, or you loved the person or they had some importance in your life. You need to embrace the grief and the deep feelings of sadness, the crying — whatever form that comes in — and know that eventually that tight grip of grief is going to loosen up a little bit. And there will be moments of joy that will surprise you.
How did you help your adult children navigate the loss?
JR: At the beginning what happens is you are more concerned about others than you are about yourself, and certainly that's the case when you have children. The best answer is being as honest as possible with your kids, regardless of their age. I have learned so much from them about this process. I am grieving the loss of my spouse, but let's be honest — these three young people lost their mother. And so we continue to have frank discussions about what that means to them and how we can help one another through those losses.
How has your perspective on life changed in the past three years?
JR: A 180. I mean, completely. I set aside my 30-year career as a lawyer — although I still have my little pinky toe in the door. I want to focus on what I think is a more meaningful way to proceed forward with the rest of my life. Early on, it was starting the [Amy Krouse Rosenthal] Foundation, which is wonderful work and very meaningful. A little bit of it was taking two years to navigate the city of Chicago in the Park District, to have a piece of public art commissioned in Amy's honor.… And it's living in a way that's not so rushed, that slows down a little bit and tries to appreciate those simple moments — as Amy talked about — that we all just sort of pass over.
You are now in a relationship, but when you first started dating, you say it felt awkward to be seen in public. You felt judged.
JR: I consider myself not to be a young man, but certainly I hope to have a decent amount of life left. I mean, I hadn't been on a date in 30 years! Those initial awkward moments of realizing, Wow, am I cheating on this woman whom I was married to for so long? Of course you're not; you know that she's not here. But it's very complex. It was something that, again, people don't speak too much about, and I thought it was important to discuss. I didn't get divorced; I didn't fall out of love. There will always be a slice of Amy in my heart. And that's OK.