He’s one of the funniest people in the world.
Patton Oswalt is an accomplished comedian, writer and actor. In 2007, he was the voice of Remy in Pixar’s Ratatouille.
But for the majority of 2016, Oswalt has been pretty silent. He’s not being funny, or writing scripts. Instead he’s been grieving.
On April 21, 2016, Oswalt’s wife of 11 years, Michelle McNamara, suddenly passed away in her sleep. She was 46 years old.
Oswalt recently spoke out about his wife’s death, and is now recounting the morning, when he found her dead in the couple’s bed.
McNamara, a true-life-crime writer had spent years chasing a serial killer. The Golden State Killer, a name that she coined in a previous book about him, had raped and murdered dozens of victims in the 1970s and ’80s. He remains at large. After years of investigative reporting into these unsolved murders, Michelle believed she was close to tracking him down.
She obsessively worked long days and nights, determined to find answers.
Patton became worried about his wife’s health, and suggested that she take a night to “sleep until you wake up.” The idea seemed like an impossible luxury to the working parents of a 7-year-old. But with the hope of rejuvenating, Michelle took a Xanax and went to bed.
The next morning, Patton got their daughter, Alice, ready for school, dropped her off and stopped by his wife’s favorite coffee shop on the way home. At 9:40 a.m., he returned to their bedroom where Michelle was snoring, and left her coffee on the bedside table.
He then went into his home office, took care of some emails, phone calls and tweeted about the sudden death of Prince, before returning to his bedroom where Michelle was still in bed.
This time, she wasn’t breathing.
At 12:42 p.m. paramedics arrived and pronounced her dead.
Patton remembers screaming and throwing up. He said this was the second worst day of his life: “The worst is when I told my daughter the next day.” The 7-year-old made a statement that could not have been more true. Referring to the Pixar film Inside Out, which features characters that represent a girl’s emotions, Alice said, “I guess Sadness is doing her job right now.”
Being in-touch with such deep and darkened emotions is very different from the comedy that has made Oswalt famous. But it’s exactly the personal touch that Michelle challenged him throughout their marriage to find. In doing so, his comedy, writing, acting and career as a whole thrived.
Through this entire process of tragically losing his wife, Patton has been nothing but openly vulnerable. He perfectly summed up what it truly means to grieve, and not a minute has passed that he hasn’t worked toward “feeling better.”
“In comic-book terms,” he said. “I was married to a great crime fighter.”
He’s also thrown himself into finishing his wife’s book with the help of a researcher and another journalist. “We can finish the book, but it was tangential to the work, which was: She was going to solve this crime,” he said. “She didn’t want credit for it. She wanted him to be locked up. She was close to figuring it out. It would give her bad nightmares.”
Patton doesn’t know what’s next, and he’s not interested in looking for it. He knows that there are hard times ahead, but his daughter, Alice, is truly what has kept him going. She’s helped him as much as he’s helped her. Though he believes he’ll never be at 100 percent again, he’s trying. And he’d be the first to say that it’s enough.