After Patton Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara, died suddenly this year his world simply stopped turning. He was an empty shell, a man who was stuck in a life he definitely didn’t ask for and one he couldn’t believe was now his to live. And while he took a step back for a bit, to focus on his awful new normal, he still managed to capture our attention. Gone was the comedian who lived to entertain, but in his place is a man who manages to say the things we like to think we’d say if we were in his place.
Patton’s written a couple essays since Michelle passed away in April. The first was a tribute to his wife, who clearly was an amazing, beautiful woman. The second was about grief, how it never really goes away, and the slow process of picking up the pieces.
Oswalt’s latest essay, for GQ, will have you sobbing because it’s about his and McNamara’s daughter, Alice, and how the past seven-and-a-half months have been. Basically, it’s sucked … but he’s slowly but surely getting it. And, yes, what everyone says is true. Life goes on.
He starts off by talking about his late better half, how when it came to parenting they were anything but equal.
“Michelle was the point person, researcher, planner, and expediter. I was the grunt, office assistant, instruction follower, and urban Sherpa,” he wrote. “I was looking forward to spending my life with the single most original mind I’d ever encountered. And now? Gone. All gone.”
Oswalt compares his new life to that of a movie. “It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen.”
He goes on to talk about some mistakes he’s made, from missed forms for school to not having her favourite foods stocked. But he’s getting it. “If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.”
And as much as he wants to “tune out the world and hide under the covers,” he knows he has to move forward for Alice. “She’s got so much of Michelle in her,” he wrote. “And Michelle was living her life moving forward. And she took me forward with her. Just like I know Alice will.”
Do any of us really know what we’re doing? It takes a big person to ask for help but Patton is doing just that. And by sharing his struggles and mistakes, his stumbles and fears, his learning from experience, he’s giving us all so much more than he might never know. His frankness and his bravery are truly the inspiration we all need — whether we’re in this thing alone or terrified of that very fact.
If there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Patton. Yes, for his and Michelle’s daughter, Alice, but hopefully he realizes he has to do it for himself too.