On April 21, 2016, Grammy-winning stand up comedian, writer, and actor Patton Oswalt discovered his wife, crime writer Michelle McNamara, had unexpectedly died in her sleep at the age of 46. This heartbreaking news quickly spread across the web as Oswalt had developed a reputation as a beloved figure online thanks to his trademark wit, openness, and celebration of all things nerd. It was a dark time for Oswalt, as he struggled to piece his life back together while still taking care of his daughter Alice, who was only seven when Michelle died.
In the immediate months following his wife’s death, Oswalt remained out of the public eye, allowing himself to mourn with those closest to him. But last August, he made the announcement that he would begin working again and things have been steadily brightening for him. This fall, he’s set to star in the new NBC pilot AP Bio. And, a little over a month ago, he announced his engagement to former actress and legal mediator Meredith Salenger. In a wide-reaching interview with Playboy, Oswalt spoke about his grief, learning to rely on others, and how being a dad kept him from becoming “a shut-in alcoholic.”
In the past, Oswalt has been forthcoming about his battle with depression, but he admitted that he was not prepared for the pain that came with a new emotion: grief. He explains, “Grief is like, ‘Hey, depression, I taught you everything you know, but I didn’t teach you everything I know.'”
When discussing his wife’s passing, he said the first few weeks were among the most challenging of his life. He was especially worried that he would fail his daughter. “There were times when I got really worried, like what if she’s just putting on a show for me, trying to be brave but inside she’s dying?” Oswalt said. “There were times when she was a little kid in a house with a father who was sort of shut down and having trouble talking.”
There were times where Oswalt felt he would never be the same again, but gives full credit to his daughter for helping him through his battle with grief. “I’m forever glad that I have Alice. If I hadn’t had a daughter and my wife died, we wouldn’t be talking right now,” Oswalt admits.
He also acknowledges that to help Alice with her own grief, he “called in favors like you wouldn’t believe just to give her little special moments. Yes, that was a bit of show-biz privilege, but fuck it. If you’ve got it, use it.”
Oswalt also spoke on the joy that has returned to his life because of Meredith and admits that he initially wondered if it was “unhealthy” to experience “such extremes of despair and now such extremes of joy” in a short period of time. He addressed the criticism from people online who felt he had moved on too fast, saying, “Too fucking bad. Live with it every day like I did, and if you’re still uncomfortable, then we can talk. But until then you’ve got to be quiet.”
While Oswalt knows his grief will never fully subside, he is “cautiously hopeful” that with Alice and Meredith by his side, he has a real chance to get to a place of genuine and sustainable happiness.