Editor’s note: We know that our readers are looking for books to read, so our reviewer, Curt Schleier of River Vale, suggests one here.
Jason B. Rosenthal lived in a real-life romcom. Until he didn’t.
On March 5, 2017, the New York Times published a Modern Love essay written by his wife, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, called “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It was a moving paean to a man she’d been happily, even joyously married to for 26 years.
Amy died a week later, from the ovarian cancer she’d been diagnosed with two years earlier.
Now Jason, 55, has written his story, My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me (Harper, $26.99), about their life together and his grief.
It is, of course, heart breaking. From the time they met cute (on a blind date set up by a friend of Amy’s dad), it was clear that their relationship was beshert.
But on another level the book also is heart-warming. There are people who go their entire lives without experiencing what the Rosenthals shared for a quarter century.
In the book, Rosenthal writes “I know I made this marriage sound like a fantasy.” When I asked him about it in a telephone interview he doubled down. “I know it’s hard to believe,” he said. “It really was a fantasy. We found ourselves to be so compatible. We supported each other and enjoyed each other. For me it was easy. Amy was so much fun and interesting.”
Jason was a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, and Amy wrote children’s books and memoirs. At a Washington, D.C., book festival, Amy began to experience pain on her right side. Jason picked her up at the airport and drove her straight to an emergency room, trying to reassure her and himself that it was just a burst appendix.
It wasn’t. There was a brief remission, but there was no stopping the cancer’s progression. Typical of their relationship, they sat down and talked about it.
“There was a point, near the end,) where our conversations started getting more intense,” Jason said. “We were very honest with each other about the what if? Then when it became clear that the end was in sight the conversations got a lot more intense. They ranged as deep as how am I going to do this on my own? How am I going to get through the milestones that you would have been so amazing at?”
Jason was unaware his wife was preparing the Modern Love piece, essentially a dating app profile of her husband.
“I was sitting literally where I’m sitting now, at the dining room table with a bunch of files, watching Amy in the next room working on a project and then falling asleep,” he said.
“I knew she wanted to work on one last project, but I didn’t know what it was before it was published. Of course, I was blown away by the writing, and by the fact that she would do that for me.”
Not surprisingly, after the article was published he received hundreds of letters of support from around the world and when I suggested that was a kind of international shiva he chuckled, saying “I might steal that.”
But asked if the support helped him, he says: “I don’t know how to answer that. What happened in the beginning, I didn’t focus on the attention on the correspondence. I was too focused on my family and my grief and trying to get our lives back together again. It was when the fog lifted that I realized the impact of all this.
“I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because of so many people watching. I just did things at a pace that was comfortable for me.”
Rosenthal’s book is replete with Jewish references, from the synagogues the family visited on vacations overseas to the Jewish day schools Jason attended and to which he sent his children.
The latter “is where I formed a lot of my connection to my Jewish faith and community. I met my two best friends at the school. We still send each other texts every Friday night.
“I wouldn’t call myself a regular attendee of services. Now, I’m more a cultural Jew. I talk throughout the book about the Shabbat dinners that were integral throughout our lives. It was not so much about reading Talmud for me; it was more about appreciating seders and that kind of thing.”
With the help of family and friends, he has begun to recover. “Time does interesting things,” he told me. “The deep deep emotion and grief fades away. But I still have thoughts and memories of Amy every single day. It doesn’t always make me cry, but I don’t think it will ever go away.”
He has started dating, but presumably not the woman who sent him this marriage proposal:
“I will marry you when you are ready, provided you permanently stop drinking. No other conditions. Take your time. I promise to outlive you.”