As It Happens

Writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal dies after penning 'beautiful' dating profile for husband

Writer and filmmaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who broke hearts when she wrote of being terminally ill and leaving behind her husband Jason, has died. As it Happens speak with friend and collaborator Claire Zulkey.
Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal poses for a photo on Aug. 1, 2016, in Chicago. Rosenthal, a popular author, filmmaker and speaker who brightened lives with her wide-eyed spirit and broke hearts when she wrote of being terminally ill and leaving behind her husband, Jason, died on Monday. She was 51. (Kevin Nance/Chicago Tribune via Associated Press)

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When writer Claire Zulkey read her friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal's heart-wrenching New York Times column about being terminally ill and leaving behind her husband, Jason, she immediately found her own husband and gave him a hug.

The Modern Love column, written in the style of a dating profile extolling her partner's virtues, was the last piece of prose Rosenthal published before she died Monday at the age of 51 from ovarian cancer. 

"I think that would have been a secondary or tertiary reaction that I think Amy would have liked — that people went and looked at their partners and loved ones and appreciated them a little bit more," Zulkey, Rosenthal's friend and sometimes collaborator, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"I think a lot of people who knew her have been realizing and taking to heart her message of 'appreciate what you have now.'"

The column titled You May Want to Marry My Husband has been read more than 4.5 million times online, according to Rosenthal's Times obituary

"It was a beautiful piece, and to think that she wrote it while she was struggling through the last couple weeks of her life," Zulkey said. "I know it wasn't easy for her."

Writer Claire Zulkey and her friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal pose at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory in May 2015. Rosenthal, a beloved children's book author, died on Monday. (Claire Zulkey)

The column may have been the last words she wrote, but it was far from the only thing Rosenthal created that resonated with people. 

Zulkey on Amy Krouse Rosenthal

A Chicago native and longtime resident, Rosenthal completed more than 30 books, including journals, memoirs and the bestselling children's picture stories Uni the Unicorn and Duck! Rabbit! She made short films and YouTube videos, gave TED talks and provided radio commentary for NPR, among others.

She loved experimenting with different media, and blending the virtual and physical worlds. One of her favourite projects began with a YouTube video, "17 Things I Made", featuring books she had written, her three children and even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

At the end of the video, she welcomed fans to join her at Chicago's Millennium Park on Aug. 8, 2008, at 8:08 p.m. The goal was to make a "cool" 18th thing.

Hundreds turned out to "make" things — a grand entrance, a new friend, a splash, something pretty — all of which she documented in an online short film series called The Beckoning of Lovely, directed by Zulkey's husband, Steve.

"She was a great advocate of encouraging people's creativity," Zulkey said. 

She also raised three children and had a flair for random acts of kindness — whether it was hanging dollar bills from a tree or leaving notes on ATM machines.

Zulkey remembers when Rosenthal insisted on throwing her and her then fiancé an engagement party back in 2008.

'Just these little touches'

"We were more colleagues than friends at that time and there was a part of me that wanted to say no, because I didn't want to put her out. It seemed like such a big thing for her to do, to offer to throw us this party. But I said yes, and was grateful that she did," she said. "There were just these little touches."

During the party, Rosenthal told a story about her parents' friends, who were also named Claire and Steve, and made éclairs for dessert, a pun on Zulkey's first name.

And at 10:11 p.m., an alarm went off in tribute to the couple's Oct. 11 wedding date. Rosenthal then handed them a scrap of paper with 10:11 p.m. scrawled on it.

"She hoped at 10:11 every night that my husband and I would think about our wedding and our time together," Zulkey said. "We do have that scrap of paper. We've held onto it and it has travelled with us now to two different homes."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal wanted Claire and Steve Zulkey to remember their Oct. 11 wedding anniversary every evening at 10:11 p.m. (Claire Zulkey)

Rosenthal had a way of compelling people to appreciate one another, Zulkey said. 

"She always expressed how unfair it was that there is a finite amount of time to enjoy all the parts of life that are worth enjoying, and so to have it be cut off so abruptly, you know, 30 years even sooner than she thought, it's unfair and she wanted to express that," she said.

"I think a lot of people who knew her are suddenly realizing you should take it in now, for sure."

Amy Krouse Rosenthal inspired her friends to appreciate their loved ones. (Facebook)

It's a lesson Zulkey put into practice Monday when her four-year-old son wanted to go outside and play in the snow.

"And to be honest, it wasn't the first thing I wanted to do was go out in the cold. I wanted to make dinner."

Then she remembered the words of a mutual friend upon learning of Rosenthal's death: "You can't add years to your life, but you can add life to your years."

"And that made me think, well, I would never regret spending time with my son outside in the snow. I would never think, 'Boy, I wish I had spent more time putting dinner on the table or checking Facebook,'" she said.

So they went outside and forged family memories — sliding in their snow pants and making snow angels. 

"I certainly thought of Amy," she said. 

With files from The Associated Press