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Widowed author, made famous in ‘Modern Love,’ relates grief to quarantine

Jason Rosenthal lost his wife Amy to cancer three years ago. (Photo by Brooke Hummer)

On March 3, 2017, The New York Times published a Modern Love essay titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” by Chicago writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal. The essay went viral. Ten days later, at 51 years old, she died.

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“Amy was in home hospice. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” said Jason Rosenthal, her husband and the subject of the essay.

In the piece, Amy reveals her diagnosis and then essentially creates a dating profile for her husband. She sells the reader on Jason’s best traits: He’s a great cook, handsome and kind, a wonderful dad to their three grown children, and he’s in the habit of wearing jazzy socks. She gives him permission to find love and happiness after she’s gone.

Jason said he had no idea she was writing the essay.

“She wanted that to be a surprise, so I didn’t know until I read the final piece,” Jason said. “I read it before she published it, but I didn’t know before then.”

Now, three years later, Jason, who has been a lawyer for over 30 years, wrote a book called My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me. He writes about their fairy-tale 25-year relationship, but the book is also about how to handle loss and grief, and the journey to finding comfort and happiness again.

If there was a Hollywood version of their story, it would include a cliche happy ending. Jason would find new love and the camera would pan to Amy’s photo on the mantel, a reminder that she’ll always be in his heart. Since their story is now a public one, I wondered if he felt any pressure from readers to neatly tie a bow around his life and give people the happy ending they crave.

“Do I feel pressure? No. I’m just trying to get through, you know,” he said. “I don’t rule out the idea of a permanent new relationship but I don’t live my life saying, ‘I better do that because of the story.'”

Just like Tom Hanks’ widowed character in Sleepless In Seattle, Jason did receive a lot of mail from women interested in dating him.

“I did, for sure. I do include some in my book because they brought me humor and it was fun and funny. But the reality is that a much higher percentage of them were just really beautiful, open, honest correspondence to me,” he recalled. “These people are going through something difficult in their life and want to connect with me, a total and complete stranger.”

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Jason is a strong believer of sitting with grief, not hiding it away or forcing oneself to move on after a certain amount of time. He said the grief of losing a loved one has parallels to the emotions that many are feeling right now during quarantine.

“It feels like this period of time will last forever,” he said. “Our governor just continued the stay-at-home order for another month. It feels like an unbearable amount of time, but I think any of us who have been through significant loss have this perspective of time. I just want people to be confident that we will, indeed, get through it. It’s tough, people have lost their jobs and, god forbid, their loved ones’ lives. But I think that as we proceed forward, we’re going to look back on this period of time as an extraordinarily difficult time. But it will be in the rear window one day.”

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram & join the Quarantine Cooking Club!

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