Jason is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel eyes. He is a sharp dresser. Those who know him — or just happen to glance down at the gap between his dress slacks and dress shoes — know that he has a flair for fabulous socks. He is fit and enjoys keeping in shape. On the subject of food — man, can he cook. Jason also loves listening to live music.
This is an excerpt from a personal ad that appeared in an issue of “Modern Love” in the Styles Section of the New York Times in March of 2017. Jason didn’t write this personal ad about himself. Rather, Jason’s wife, who at the time was dying of ovarian cancer, wrote it. Amy Krouse Rosenthal died on March 13, 2017, 10 days after this essay was published. She titled the article, “Why You Should Marry my Husband.” After 25 years of marriage, and after sending the last of three children off to college, this was not the way Amy and Jason had envisioned their silver anniversary.
Amy writes, “So many plans instantly went poof… No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar. This is when we entered what I came to think of as Plan “Be,” existing only in the present. As for the future, allow me to introduce you to the gentleman of this article, Jason Brian Rosenthal. I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. But that is not going to happen. I probably have only a few days left being a person on this planet. So why I am doing this? I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”
I was so struck by this beautiful article because while we are often so focused on remembering those that died—Amy, even as she is dying, is able to focus on the living. She wanted the man she loved to continue to love and continue to live, even when she was no longer alive. Amy was trying to prepare him for her death and give him the space to move on. In a podcast I came across called “Dying Well,” Jason explained how liberating it was for Amy to give him that blessing to move on.
We, ourselves are looking for that delicate balance of remembering and moving forward. We are here today to yizkor—to remember those we loved yet and yet we know we somehow must continue on without their physically presence in our life. Each of us must adapt to this new sense of normal.
After our days of mourning have come to an end, after the eleven months of Kaddish and the year of firsts, if only each of us had such an article from our loves ones granting us the permission to move on. Wouldn’t they want us to find joy again? Moving forward does not mean forgetting our past. Rather it means building on it. Amy’s widowed husband Jason explains, “There are always things that remind me of our life together, and I don’t think that is ever going to change” And there were moments that were especially bittersweet—their son graduating college, especially after he had tried his best to keep up his studies why Amy was sick but there were also unexpected moments when the memories and pain of loss took Jason by surprise. And that is how it is for all of us—it’s not just the birthdays and anniversaries, but the unanticipated moments that stir up emotion.
I remember in the first year of my father’s death I was surprised by the unpredictable things that made me emotional. My father died in March of 2009 but it was nine months later in December that I found my eyes filled with tears once again. This happened as I joined with the rest of the clergy on the bima to sing the Ma Ozur. I didn’t realize a Hanukkah song would have such a strong effect on me.Yet the traditional music brought back the memories of countless Hanukkah parties celebrated with my father, when he loudly and proudly belted out this song. I never thought I would be able to get through that song again. Yet nine years later, I no longer find my eyes filled with tears when I hear its familiar melody. Now it has become a nice memory, not a sad one. I am living proof that the traditions he taught me live on through me—that he is breathing life through me.
When each of my sons were born, the first of which who is named after my father, we wrapped each of our sons in my father’ tallis. It’s the same tallit that I hope they will each wear when they become a Bar Mitzvah. My father will always be a part of my life and their hopefully their lives.
In a Ted Talk that he did after her death, Amy’s widower, Jason discusses the Japanese zen term Sho-ge which can be translated as BirthDeath. He explains, “There is no separation between life and death other than a thin line that connects the two. Birth or the joyous, vital, wonderful parts of life and death, those things we want to get rid of, are faced equally.” “We travel through those spots along the way.” We are here today because of those who came before and those who molded us into who we have become and who we are still yet to be.
Amy knew her husband was going to continue in the land of the living—and she gave him a gift by asking him to take joy in that life.
If our loved ones were going to write us a letter for the future—what would it say? What advice would they give? And do we really need them to articulate the specifics for us to know how our actions would make them happy and proud. By moving forward with our lives, they move forward with us. In this year 5779, may we live so that those that we have lost can live on through these next chapters of our lives.