Like a lot of other people, I found out over the weekend that author Amy Krouse Rosenthal has terminal ovarian cancer. This discovery was made when a friend told me about her New York Times Modern Love essay, published in yesterday’s print edition but available online two days earlier. After a quick google search that brought up a long list of links and headlines containing phrases like “dying woman”, I read Amy’s essay, in which she offers up a gleaming dating profile for her husband in the hopes of him finding love again after she’s gone. I haven’t stopped thinking of her since.
Amy, who is barely two years old than I am, is a creative kindred. We’ve connected and worked together on a few projects over the years, and I’ve given her books to my granddaughter. As news of her diagnosis sank in, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d missed this news on Facebook, as I’d missed so many other major broadcasts by my infrequent visits and check-ins. (A long while ago, upon mentioning to my best friend I’d just had lunch with a friend of Diana Nyad’s coach, and was so inspired to discover Nyad had, at the age of 64, made the 100-mile swim from Cuba to Miami, her incredulous response was, “Where have you been? That was all over Facebook!”) Was this one of those moments? Had everyone known Amy was dying except me?
After perusing Amy’s feeds on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, it doesn’t appear so. She received her diagnosis in September 2015, but did not share the news publicly until very recently, a choice I admire and respect and find downright daring. She kept writing and creating while simultaneously going through the process of releasing all the plans and ideas she - and her family - had been saving up for the future. She went through the ensuing seventeen months processing this devastating turn of events in private, without the aid of what would have certainly been a surfeit of well wishes and encouragement, if the recent posts on her Facebook page are any indication.
From the moment I finished reading Amy’s essay, it was as if the wattage of all the lightbulbs in our house quintupled. I suddenly didn’t want to take anything for granted. When considering many of the things I was going to be doing that day - taking a shower, meeting a friend for lunch, eating chocolate cake - I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these things were simply no longer possible for Amy. And as I moved through my day, I kept wondering what she was doing and thinking and feeling in that moment. What was going through her mind as her essay traveled at warp speed across the world wide web?
I attended an event in Pasadena on Saturday, which is a two-hour drive from Santa Barbara. Evening was approaching as I drove home, creating a brilliant, psychedelic sunset. The array of colors was like an assortment of highlighter pens - day-glo yellows, oranges and pinks melting skyward into deep blues and violets. Again, I thought of Amy, and about how her light, on a physical level at least, was in its own process of diminishment. And again, I wanted to remember - the colors, the beauty, the moment, the fact that I had just spent a day with dear friends and was on my way home, where my husband was fixing me dinner. Don’t ever stop forgetting, I thought to myself. Don’t ever stop seeing.
I like to think I’ll live the rest of my days in such a heightened state of awareness, that I’ll always notice the soft buzzing of the hummingbirds the way I did yesterday, that I’ll savor every cup of coffee the way I did this morning. I like to think that maybe this is the wake-up call - after all the other such wake-up calls I’ve been given - that will keep me fully alive and present in the here and now, in perpetuity. I’ve held that vibrant attention to detail for almost forty-eight hours now, and I can’t say I’ve ever spent so much time enjoying the way the shadows dance on our walls.
But I know my ride on this high-frequency sensory wavelength will eventually settle down, and I’ll go back to not noticing the butterflies in our neighborhood and instead getting annoyed by the slow drivers in front of me. I will eventually stop thinking incessantly about Amy and wondering how it can be possible that this bright, creative beauty got handed such a crappy diagnosis. It is how these things go - what starts as shock and sadness and a determination to hold every moment as precious becomes tempered by the tasks and details of life.
Every Modern Love essay provides a short bio of each author. Amy’s reads Amy Krouse Rosenthal is the author of 28 children’s picture books and the recent memoir “Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.” She lives in Chicago. I am so sad that Amy has been sick, and that this sickness is apparently going to be the end of her. It isn’t fair, and it doesn’t make sense. But today her byline says she lives in Chicago, and so, in honor of her, I’m going to do the same thing. I’m going to keep writing, and I’m going to keep creating, because that’s what I came here to do, just like Amy.