The Current

What a Modern Love essay by his late wife taught Jason Rosenthal about grief — and love

In the weeks before her death, Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote an essay titled You May Want to Marry My Husband. Now, the subject of that essay, Jason Rosenthal, has published a memoir from his perspective, aptly titled My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal's viral story about her husband served as a love letter and a personals ad

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, left, and Jason Rosenthal were married for 26 years. Krouse Rosenthal died in 2017 following a battle with ovarian cancer. (Submitted by Jason Rosenthal)

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In the weeks before her death, Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote an essay titled You May Want to Marry My Husband.

That piece, published as part of the New York Times' Modern Love column, served as a personals ad for her husband.

The author's loving description of her husband, and her honest acknowledgement of what she'll miss about him, struck a chord with millions readers.

Now, the subject of that essay, Jason Rosenthal, has published a memoir from his perspective, aptly titled My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me.

Jason Rosenthal spoke with The Current's Matt Galloway about grieving his late wife and finding love after her death.

Here is part of that conversation.

What do you remember about what was going on in your life and in your house when she [Amy] was writing that piece?

That was the last piece of writing that she really wanted to finish.... Obviously her diagnosis was terminal, so we were in home hospice and I was sitting up at the dining room table, which was my makeshift office at the time. 

And there she was, across the room from me in the living room, just trying desperately to, literally, physically complete this one last piece of writing. 

Of course, I read it, but I had no idea what to expect if it was going to be published, and I was extremely shocked at the outpouring when it did.

Did you know what she was writing?

No, I did not know until it was finished.

It's such a difficult time, and time is so short in those moments, but did you talk to her about why it was so important that she finish that piece? That that was the last piece that she wrote? 

Not specifically. There were additional nuggets that she left behind that I didn't even know that she wrote. But not specifically. No, it was all quite a bit of a surprise. 

Jason Rosenthal's memoir is titled My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, a nod to his late wife's Modern Love essay. (Brooke Hummer/Harper Collins)

It goes out into the world through this column — it's shared all around the world through social media and beyond. What sort of response did you get? 

It was overwhelming, I'll put it that way. At first, I was really absorbed into the depths of grief and couldn't process everything that was going on. And that was for quite a long time. 

It wasn't until much later that I went back into these bins that I had been collecting, literally, of physical letters, trinkets, pieces of art and other things that people were sending us and dove into those and really read all of them. 

Why do you think that what she wrote connected with people in that way … Why do you think it had that impact?

I think it's a combination of the beauty of our relationship, of the selflessness of the human race, and trying to comfort me — a total stranger at a time where I was obviously suffering a deep loss. 

Also, I think in general, as I've learned since then … everyone has an issue relating to loss that they wanted to sort of share and felt like they could connect with me because this was so public. 

That ends up being, in some ways, not your life's work but a big part of your life after Amy dies; that you become, in some ways, an expert on grief. Tell me a little bit about that and how that unfolded. Were you comfortable in that role?

It started because I gave a TED talk in April 2018 about my journey, really, in being with Amy and being with her at the end of her life, and a little bit about how I've gotten on since then.

And it was really as a result of the response, the incredible response from that and how people again connected with me, that convinced me that this was something that I really could do and that people really wanted and resonated with.

What were people looking for, do you think?

I think they were looking for a way to connect with someone [about] what they were going through in their own lives, because every one of us has a story of loss.

In her Modern Love essay, Krouse Rosenthal wrote about meeting Jason during a blind date set up by a family friend. (Submitted by Jason Rosenthal)

You're a lawyer, now you're a writer, and you also become a grief counsellor. Is that something that was easy for you, that transition?

Turns out it was, yeah. Who knew, right? 

I feel like it's a meaningful step in my life. It gives me great meaning to connect with people in this way.

Amy, in the piece that she wrote — [and] beyond that as well — encouraged you to go out and meet someone after her death. Why do you think she was insistent about that?

I spent a lot of time thinking about that, but I think that at some level she knew it would be so hard because our relationship was so beautiful and so connected. And I'm not sure, even now as I think about it, that I could possibly do that without her express blessing, and it really permitted me to move forward in my life.

Have you been able to move forward in that way?

Yes. I'm seeing someone and we're connected and I talk a very little bit about in the book, mostly because I wanted to give permission to guys in my similar situation to know that it's OK. You know, many people won't get the express blessing that I got. But I'd like to pay it forward.

What do you mean [by] permission? 

Permission to move on in life. You know, for me, I'm a relatively young man and I know a lot of people who are experiencing loss feel the same way. 

But it's hard. It's hard to even conceive of the fact that you might have another chapter.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.


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