Patton Oswalt is one of the funniest people in the world.
He's an accomplished comedian, writer, actor, and was the voice of Remy in the 2007 Pixar film "Ratatouille."
In April 2016, Patton Oswalt's wife, Michelle McNamara passed away suddenly in her sleep. She was 46, and they had been married for 11 years.
Since then, Oswalt's comedy career has been on pause while he grieves, takes care of their daughter, and, remarkably, helps finish his wife's last book, which was left nearly complete at the time of her death.
A few months ago, 102 days after McNamara's death, Oswalt wrote about his grieving process on Facebook.
His words are raw, gripping, emotional, and heartbreaking.
"Thanks, Grief," Oswalt begins, before describing grief in a number of ways, trying to put into words what it feels like to lose your partner suddenly and without warning (emphasis mine):
"Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you.
But grief? Grief is Jason Statham holding that 4th grade bully's head in a toilet and then fu**ing the teacher you've got a crush on in front of the class. Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a di**.
If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get 'em to love you back.
But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have sh** to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel "wiser." You will not have 'closure.' You will not have 'perspective' or 'resilience' or 'a new sense of self.' You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you'll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come."
Even in a time of seemingly insurmountable despair, Oswalt was not without a hopeful message.
He praises the support of family and friends who show up to help you in your darkest time (again, emphasis mine):
"...You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, 'Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.' Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you'll keep and re-read 'cause you can't believe how helpful they are. And, if you're a parent? You'll wish you were your kid's age, because the way they embrace despair and joy are at a purer level that you're going to have to reconnect with, to reach backwards through years of calcified cynicism and ironic detachment."
He talks about what his wife left behind, what he misses most about her.
"... Michelle McNamara got yanked off the planet and out of life 102 days ago. She left behind an amazing unfinished book, about a horrific series of murders that everyone — including the retired homicide detectives she worked with — was sure she'd solve. The Golden State Killer. She gave him that name, in an article for Los Angeles Magazine. She was going to figure out the real name behind it.
She left Alice, her 7-year-old daughter. But not before putting the best parts of her into Alice, like beautiful music burned onto a CD and sent out into the void on a spaceship.And she left me. 102 days into this.I was face-down and frozen for weeks. It's 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I'm crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement.
Maybe 102 days later I'll be walking."
He talks about how he plans to continue his wife's work, and his own work too. Not because it's what McNamara would have wanted him to do — she was always surprising him, after all — but because he has no other choice but to keep moving, to keep writing and telling jokes, or else the grief wins (emphasis mine):
"Any spare energy I've managed to summon since April 21st I've put toward finishing Michelle's book. With a lot of help from some very amazing people. It will come out. I will let you know. It's all her. We're just taking what's there and letting it tell us how to shape it. It's amazing.
And I'm going to start telling jokes again soon. And writing. And acting in stuff and making things I like and working with friends on projects and do all the stuff I was always so privileged to get to do before the air caught fire around me and the sun died. It's all I knew how to do before I met Michelle. I don't know what else I'm supposed to do now without her.
And not because, 'It's what Michelle would have wanted me to do.' For me to even presume to know what Michelle would have wanted me to do is the height of arrogance on my part. That was one of the many reasons I so looked forward to growing old with her. Because she was always surprising me. Because I never knew what she'd think or what direction she'd go.
Okay, I'll start being funny again soon. What other choice do I have? Reality is in a death spiral and we seem to be living in a cackling, looming nightmare-swamp. We're all being dragged into a shadow-realm of doom by hateful lunatics who are determined to send our planet careening into oblivion.
Hey, there's that smile I was missing!"
In a little over 700 words, Oswalt cuts to the core of how insurmountable grief can feel and how hard it can be to work through it.
He articulates how broken and lost we can feel in the wake of a terrible loss and manages to wrestle with the full range of complicated emotions that lie at the center of grief.
To lose someone you love so suddenly is a tragedy that would bring anyone down to their most vulnerable and fragile state. Not many of us have had to go through that publicly.
For Oswalt to share his thoughts with the world is not only brave, but generous. Somewhere, someone is reading his words and going through the same thing. Somewhere, someone has realized they're not alone. Somewhere, someone has realized there's a light in the darkness, and they're going to get up and get through another day. Even when it hurts.
- Author whose son died 14 years ago has words of hope for those who have lost loved ones - Upworthy ›
- Psychologist's 'Ring Theory' can help you not say the wrong thing to people in grief - Upworthy ›
- Zoom memorials highlight the ironic cruelty of trying to mourn together during the pandemic - Upworthy ›