He has watched his wife’s legacy grow stronger – he was touched, he says, to see the Duchess of Sussex reading his late wife’s book, Duck! Rabbit! to little Archie in a video celebrating his first birthday earlier this week. “There he was squirming around, smiling and just being a regular little boy. What a testament to Amy that her book has such meaning to so many families,” – and he has sold Amy’s Modern Love letter to Universal Pictures. He is, today, probably the most famous widower in America; an ambassador for grief. But most of all he is “that husband.”
These are not titles many of us would yearn for, he concedes. “People in my own family will still ask me, ‘are you really sure you want to be doing this all the time?’” But “this” – the writing and public speaking on loss, grief and resilience – has become Rosenthal’s mission in life. And although he never expected his forthcoming memoir, My Wife Said You May Want To Marry Me, to be published at the peak of a global pandemic, the lessons Rosenthal learned, both during his late wife’s battle with ovarian cancer and after her death, when he and his three children – Paris, 23, Miles, 25 and Justin, 27 – were forced to find a way to heal, are more resonant than ever.
“Let’s be clear: what we’re all living through now are a series of losses,” he explains from the Chicago home in which he’s currently locked down. “Suddenly we’re in the strange position where everyone has a story of loss. Those losses may range from not being able to go outside, take your daily walk or go to the gym, to having someone close to you be really sick or die – but they are all losses. So what we’re experiencing isn’t just just like grief: it is grief.”
Before the “loss is loss is loss” epiphany Rosenthal experiences two thirds of the way through his memoir, he admits to believing in a barometer of grief. “People would come to me saying: ‘I know how you feel – I lost a dog.’ And you couldn’t help thinking: ‘How can you compare that to what I went through? I’m the one who suffered more!’.”