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  • There are three words that explain why I am here.

  • They are "Amy Krouse Rosenthal."

  • At the end of Amy's life,

  • hyped up on morphine and home in hospice,

  • the "New York Times" published an article she wrote

  • for the "Modern Love" column on March 3, 2017.

  • It was read worldwide by over five million people.

  • The piece was unbearably sad,

  • ironically funny

  • and brutally honest.

  • While it was certainly about our life together,

  • the focus of the piece was me.

  • It was called, "You May Want to Marry My Husband."

  • It was a creative play on a personal ad for me.

  • Amy quite literally left an empty space for me to fill

  • with another love story.

  • Amy was my wife for half my life.

  • She was my partner in raising three wonderful, now grown children,

  • and really, she was my girl, you know?

  • We had so much in common.

  • We loved the same art,

  • the same documentaries, the same music.

  • Music was a huge part of our life together.

  • And we shared the same values.

  • We were in love,

  • and our love grew stronger up until her last day.

  • Amy was a prolific author.

  • In addition to two groundbreaking memoirs,

  • she published over 30 children's books.

  • Posthumously, the book she wrote with our daughter Paris,

  • called "Dear Girl,"

  • reached the number one position on the "New York Times" bestseller list.

  • She was a self-described tiny filmmaker.

  • She was 5'1" and her films were not that long.

  • (Laughter)

  • Her films exemplified her natural ability to gather people together.

  • She was also a terrific public speaker,

  • talking with children and adults of all ages

  • all over the world.

  • Now, my story of grief is only unique in the sense of it being rather public.

  • However, the grieving process itself was not my story alone.

  • Amy gave me permission to move forward, and I'm so grateful for that.

  • Now, just a little over a year into my new life,

  • I've learned a few things.

  • I'm here to share with you part of the process of moving forward

  • through and with grief.

  • But before I do that, I think it would be important

  • to talk a little bit about the end of life,

  • because it forms how I have been emotionally since then.

  • Death is such a taboo subject, right?

  • Amy ate her last meal on January 9, 2017.

  • She somehow lived an additional two months

  • without solid food.

  • Her doctors told us we could do hospice at home

  • or in the hospital.

  • They did not tell us that Amy would shrink to half her body weight,

  • that she would never lay with her husband again,

  • and that walking upstairs to our bedroom would soon feel like running a marathon.

  • Home hospice does have an aura of being a beautiful environment to die in.

  • How great that you don't have the sounds of machines beeping

  • and going on and off all the time,

  • no disruptions for mandatory drug administration,

  • home with your family to die.

  • We did our best to make those weeks as meaningful as we could.

  • We talked often about death.

  • Everybody knows it's going to happen to them, like, for sure,

  • but being able to talk openly about it was liberating.

  • We talked about subjects like parenting.

  • I asked Amy how I could be the best parent possible to our children in her absence.

  • In those conversations, she gave me confidence

  • by stressing what a great relationship I had with each one of them,

  • and that I can do it.

  • I know there will be many times

  • where I wish she and I can make decisions together.

  • We were always so in sync.

  • May I be so audacious as to suggest

  • that you have these conversations now,

  • when healthy.

  • Please don't wait.

  • As part of our hospice experience, we organized groups of visitors.

  • How brave of Amy to receive them, even as she began her physical decline.

  • We had a Krouse night,

  • her parents and three siblings.

  • Friends and family were next.

  • Each told beautiful stories of Amy and of us.

  • Amy made an immense impact on her loyal friends.

  • But home hospice is not so beautiful for the surviving family members.

  • I want to get a little personal here and tell you that to this date,

  • I have memories of those final weeks that haunt me.

  • I remember walking backwards to the bathroom,

  • assisting Amy with each step.

  • I felt so strong.

  • I'm not such a big guy,

  • but my arms looked and felt so healthy compared to Amy's frail body.

  • And that body failed in our house.

  • On March 13 of last year,

  • my wife died of ovarian cancer in our bed.

  • I carried her lifeless body

  • down our stairs,

  • through our dining room

  • and our living room

  • to a waiting gurney

  • to have her body cremated.

  • I will never get that image out of my head.

  • If you know someone who has been through the hospice experience,

  • acknowledge that.

  • Just say you heard this guy Jason

  • talk about how tough it must be to have those memories

  • and that you're there if they ever want to talk about it.

  • They may not want to talk,

  • but it's nice to connect with someone living each day with those lasting images.

  • I know this sounds unbelievable, but I've never been asked that question.

  • Amy's essay caused me to experience grief in a public way.

  • Many of the readers who reached out to me wrote beautiful words of reflection.

  • The scope of Amy's impact was deeper and richer

  • than even us and her family knew.

  • Some of the responses I received helped me with the intense grieving process

  • because of their humor,

  • like this email I received from a woman reader

  • who read the article, declaring,

  • "I will marry you when you are ready --

  • (Laughter)

  • "provided you permanently stop drinking.

  • No other conditions.

  • I promise to outlive you.

  • Thank you very much."

  • Now, I do like a good tequila, but that really is not my issue.

  • Yet how could I say no to that proposal?

  • (Laughter)

  • I laughed through the tears when I read this note from a family friend:

  • "I remember Shabbat dinners at your home

  • and Amy teaching me how to make cornbread croutons.

  • Only Amy could find creativity in croutons."

  • (Laughter)

  • On July 27, just a few months after Amy's death,

  • my dad died of complications

  • related to a decades-long battle with Parkinson's disease.

  • I had to wonder: How much can the human condition handle?

  • What makes us capable of dealing with this intense loss

  • and yet carry on?

  • Was this a test?

  • Why my family and my amazing children?

  • Looking for answers, I regret to say, is a lifelong mission,

  • but the key to my being able to persevere

  • is Amy's expressed and very public edict

  • that I must go on.

  • Throughout this year, I have done just that.

  • I have attempted to step out and seek the joy and the beauty

  • that I know this life is capable of providing.

  • But here's the reality:

  • those family gatherings,

  • attending weddings and events honoring Amy,

  • as loving as they are,

  • have all been very difficult to endure.

  • People say I'm amazing.

  • "How do you handle yourself that way during those times?"

  • They say, "You do it with such grace."

  • Well, guess what?

  • I really am sad a lot of the time.

  • I often feel like I'm kind of a mess,

  • and I know these feelings apply to other surviving spouses,

  • children, parents

  • and other family members.

  • In Japanese Zen, there is a term "Shoji,"

  • which translates as "birth death."

  • There is no separation between life and death

  • other than a thin line that connects the two.

  • Birth, or the joyous, wonderful, vital parts of life,

  • and death, those things we want to get rid of,

  • are said to be faced equally.

  • In this new life that I find myself in,

  • I am doing my best to embrace this concept as I move forward with grieving.

  • In the early months following Amy's death, though,

  • I was sure that the feeling of despair would be ever-present,

  • that it would be all-consuming.

  • Soon I was fortunate to receive some promising advice.

  • Many members of the losing-a-spouse club

  • reached out to me.

  • One friend in particular who had also lost her life partner kept repeating,

  • "Jason, you will find joy."

  • I didn't even know what she was talking about.

  • How was that possible?

  • But because Amy gave me very public permission

  • to also find happiness,

  • I now have experienced joy from time to time.

  • There it was, dancing the night away at an LCD Soundsystem concert,

  • traveling with my brother and best friend or with a college buddy on a boys' trip

  • to meet a group of great guys I never met before.

  • From observing that my deck had sun beating down on it on a cold day,

  • stepping out in it, laying there,

  • the warmth consuming my body.

  • The joy comes from my three stunning children.

  • There was my son Justin,

  • texting me a picture of himself with an older gentleman

  • with a massive, strong forearm and the caption, "I just met Popeye,"

  • with a huge grin on his face.

  • (Laughter)

  • There was his brother Miles, walking to the train

  • for his first day of work after graduating college,

  • who stopped and looked back at me and asked,

  • "What am I forgetting?"

  • I assured him right away, "You are 100 percent ready. You got this."

  • And my daughter Paris,

  • walking together through Battersea Park in London,

  • the leaves piled high,

  • the sun glistening in the early morning on our way to yoga.

  • I would add that beauty is also there to discover,

  • and I mean beauty of the wabi-sabi variety

  • but beauty nonetheless.

  • On the one hand, when I see something in this category, I want to say,

  • "Amy, did you see that? Did you hear that?

  • It's too beautiful for you not to share with me."

  • On the other hand,

  • I now experience these moments

  • in an entirely new way.

  • There was the beauty I found in music,

  • like the moment in the newest Manchester Orchestra album,

  • when the song "The Alien"

  • seamlessly transitions into "The Sunshine,"

  • or the haunting beauty of Luke Sital-Singh's "Killing Me,"

  • whose chorus reads,

  • "And it's killing me that you're not here with me.

  • I'm living happily, but I'm feeling guilty."

  • There is beauty in the simple moments that life has to offer,

  • a way of seeing that world that was so much a part of Amy's DNA,

  • like on my morning commute,

  • looking at the sun reflecting off of Lake Michigan,

  • or stopping and truly seeing how the light shines

  • at different times of the day

  • in the house we built together;

  • even after a Chicago storm, noticing the fresh buildup of snow

  • throughout the neighborhood;

  • or peeking into my daughter's room

  • as she's practicing the bass guitar.

  • Listen, I want to make it clear that I'm a very fortunate person.

  • I have the most amazing family that loves and supports me.

  • I have the resources for personal growth during my time of grief.

  • But whether it's a divorce,

  • losing a job you worked so hard at

  • or having a family member die suddenly

  • or of a slow-moving and painful death,

  • I would like to offer you

  • what I was given:

  • a blank of sheet of paper.

  • What will you do with your intentional empty space,

  • with your fresh start?

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

There are three words that explain why I am here.