In an essay written from her hospital bed on Valentine's Day, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal implored her readers to consider why "You May Want to Marry My Husband." She was in the final stages of a battle against ovarian cancer. "I'm facing a deadline," she wrote.
The New York Times published her love letter and it went viral. Ten days later, Ms. Rosenthal was gone. Besides her beloved husband, Jason, she left behind two sons, Justin and Miles, and a daughter, Paris. She was 51.
Man, did her death hit me hard for a lot of reasons. First, her book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, burrowed deep into my soul. Using the format of an actual encyclopedia, Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote a deceivingly simple book that took my breath away, that made me write in the margins, that convinced me that we are none of us different yet each of us unique. The book occupies a permanent spot on my desert island bedside table.
Plus, I always had a vague sense that I knew Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Not just because she is without guile, and shares openly. But also, we're roughly the same age, grew up about ten miles apart, worked in advertising in Chicago, husbands worked as lawyers in Chicago, etc. My friend Harlene, who lives in Chicago, has six degrees of separation with everyone I know and I figured that surely Harlene knows Amy Krouse Rosenthal. When I did meet Amy Krouse Rosenthal at a reading about five years ago, I was crestfallen that we didn't recognize each other. Nor was she acquainted with Harlene. Still, I feel like Harlene and I should have gone to the visitation. Or that we should be sending a condolence card.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal would have understood my irrational urge. She had them too and wrote to authors all the time. (Again, her confession makes me feel normal. I've written to a number of authors. Michael Perry is the only one who ever wrote back.) She gave voice to the egotistical narrative that chatters at us from inside our brain bucket.
I'm sad that she didn't get more time. She really tried to make the world a better place, and by my estimation, she was making a dent. She took great pleasure in committing random acts of kindness practically on a daily basis. And what I admired about all of her performances, her projects, her goofy stunts, was that they came from a place of love, and she always had fun.
Looking at the front cover now, I'm saddened by the prophetic subtitle:
I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story.
Dammitalltoheck, if only she hadn't died. If only she had survived against all odds. Or lived to tell. Isn't cancer the most relentless slayer of happiness?
Here's Amy's answer to that question:
But I was here.
And I did things.
I shopped for groceries. I stubbed my toe. I danced at a party in college and my dress spun around. I hugged my mother and father and hoped they would never die. I pulled change from my pocket. I wrote my name with my finger on a cold, fogged-up window. I used a dictionary. I had babies. I smelled someone barbecuing down the street. I cried to exhaustion. I got the hiccups. I grew breasts. I counted the tiles in my shower. I hoped something would happen. I had my blood pressure taken. I wrapped my leg around my husband's leg in bed. I was rude when I shouldn't have been. I watched the cellist's bow go up and down, and adored the music he made. I picked at a scab. I wished I was older. I wished I was younger. I loved my children. I loved mayonnaise. I sucked my thumb. I chewed on a blade of grass.
I was here, you see. I was.
In researching details for this post, I learned a few things about Amy that comforted me. Because, as Orson Welles said, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." So, listed alphabetically, here are three things that about Amy Krouse Rosenthal that add more pages to the story of her life.
1. Daughter Getting Tattoo
Amy Krouse Rosenthal (below right) and her nineteen-year-old daughter, Paris (below left), recording a conversation for Storycorps last summer after AKR's cancer returned. Among other things they discuss Paris's new tattoo. She picked her favorite sentence written by her mom, make the most of your time here, and had it tattooed, in her mom's handwriting, on her arm.
2. Librarian Getting Tattoo
That's Amy Krouse Rosenthal (below right) and Paulette Brooks (below left) just before they got their matching tattoos. Brooks is a librarian in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, and she won Ms. Rosenthal's author/reader matching tattoo contest. Three hundred readers submitted suggestions for tatts. Here is what Amy Krouse Rosenthal said about Paulette Brooks's submission:
"She suggested the word 'more.' This was based on an essay in the book where I mention that 'more' was my first spoken word (true). And now it may very well be my last (time shall tell)."
3: Stories Still to Come
Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote more than thirty children's books and left behind seven picture book manuscripts, to be published posthumously. One of the books is a collaboration with her daughter, Paris. Think of the yet-to-be-born children who will grow up loving Rosenthal. Think of Paris, not quite an author yet, but launched. And before she died, Rosenthal gathered over 800 wishes from her readers, stuffed them into bottles, and with her family, flung them into the ocean. When those wishes are found, think of the stories they will generate. Amy Krouse Rosenthal may be gone but she is still generating stories.
That was an unusually long blog post. If you made it all the way to here, then you must really love Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Like me! We might be reading soul mates. Which means you really should subscribe to my weekly newsletter. It will always contain a bit or two about books: