This weekend I was in a very long checkout line at Trader Joe’s and started looking at Facebook on my phone. I came across a New York Times essay that a friend had posted — a love letter from a dying woman to her husband titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” — and about halfway through reading the piece, I started getting this sinking feeling that I knew this person. Her voice seemed so familiar, and the people she was mentioning rang a bell. I scrolled back up to see the byline, and realized, to my horror, that I did recognize the writer’s name. She was Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the author of several popular children’s books (including one of my kids’ favorites, Little Pea) and some essay collections for adults as well.
The news was devastating, and hours later, my mind is still reeling. I’ve never met Amy in person, but I briefly corresponded with her over email after reading her memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, about 10 years ago. The book is a quirky and charming collection of observations on parenting, marriage and the blessed minutiae of life, and the author comes off as so friendly and endearing that I felt compelled to reach out and tell her so. I love a juicy memoir, but in this case it was nice to read about someone whose life isn’t so glamorous — more like my own. Amy ruminates on loading the dishwasher, watching her young son take an almost tragic fall, and finding meaning in people’s vanity plates, always with a keen sense of humor and touching warmth. As she starts off her book: “I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story.”
And now she is dying, at the age of 51, of ovarian cancer. After getting a sense of what a truly lovely person she is through her writing, I can’t believe that this is happening. If you haven’t read her Times piece yet, do yourself a favor and read it now, or go out and get her books. They’ll make you forget about that tantrum your kid had during lunch or that tiff you got into with your husband over whatever. You’ll realize: an ordinary life is actually the best kind of life to live.