Crime writer Michelle McNamara died unexpectedly in her sleep on April 21, 2016, leaving comedian Patton Oswalt a heartbroken widower.
“Everything seems like the lights were turned down by 50 percent,” Oswalt said months after his wife’s death, while still wearing his wedding ring.
For several months, he chronicled his grief.
After nearly four months: “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.”
After a year: “The world gazes at you like a hungry but indifferent reptile when you’re widowed. Last night I took off my wedding ring. I couldn’t bear removing it since April 21st, 2016. But now it felt obscene.”
As the summer began, though, it seemed as if those lights were shining a little brighter, the world gazing a little less hungrily, and perhaps Oswalt was finally walking. Last Thursday, he announced that he had again found love — and was engaged to actress Meredith Salenger.
As Oswalt recently put it, “I am, to quote Harlan Ellison, ass-over-teakettle for Meredith Salenger.”
But not everyone was thrilled with Oswalt’s engagement, and they loudly took to social media to ensure he knew it.
“Am I the only one who saw that Patton Oswalt got engaged and thought ‘too soon!’?” tweeted one user.
“Patton Oswalt didn’t wait long, did he? Disgusting,” tweeted another.
One commenter on a Jezebel story about the engagement took things a step further:
Nope. Wife dies suddenly in her sleep and he’s married a year later? NOPE.
You want to go out and get grief-laid? Maybe go on a few-months-long drinking bender? Join a book club? Go to the desert and drop some high-powered 4-way blotter acid? All okay.
Getting married this soon after that? Not okay.
Oswalt remained silent throughout the week, until a widow named Erica Roman wrote a piece on her blog titled, “A Widow’s Rage Defense of Patton Oswalt’s Engagement.” Roman’s husband died unexpectedly on April 18, 2016, three days before McNamara.
“Yesterday I was very excited to see that the comedian Patton Oswalt had announced his engagement to Meredith Salenger,” the piece began.
“I don’t follow the lives of celebrities at all,” Roman wrote. But because of how close the deaths were, and because both “processed our grief journey fairly openly,” she wrote, “I’ve made an exception for him.”
Oswalt shared Roman’s essay on Facebook with a note: This is so amazing. And SO well-written.” He also admitted that he “felt this rage” toward his critics. He wrote:
I expected some bitter grub worms to weigh in (anonymously, always always always) with their much-needed opinions when I announced my engagement last week. And I decided to ignore them.
But yeah, I felt this rage. And Erica articulated it better than I could have ever hoped. So there you go.
Thank you, Erica.
She wrote that though his engagement made her “heart happy to see that his heart has continued to move forward,” that “happiness for him quickly shifted to indignant anger on his behalf as I began to read the comments under the article.”
“Comment after comment poured out judgement and disdain,” she wrote. “It made me sick.”
Though tempted to respond to each individual comment, she chose instead to jot down her feelings in a few scathing paragraphs. She wrote:
You aren’t entitled to an opinion. You don’t get to comment on the choices of a widower while you sit happily next to your own living spouse. You didn’t have to stand and watch your mundane morning turn into your absolute worst nightmare. You didn’t have to face the agony of despair and the only person who could possibly bring you comfort had been ripped from your life forever. You didn’t have to stand in the ashes of what was once your life, when the sun itself darkened and the very air you breathed felt toxic in your lungs. Go back to scrolling Facebook and keep your ignorance to yourself.
… How long should a widow sit in isolation before YOU are comfortable enough to release them from their solitary confinement? Because it’s really about you isn’t it? You aren’t actually concerned about the heart of the person who has found the strength and courage to love once more.
She continued, pointing out that learning to love again takes “strength and courage.” It’s not a weakness, as many commenters suggested. She also said someone who has lost a spouse and found another isn’t replacing a person.
“The person who comes after cannot and will not replace the one we lost,” Roman wrote. “To imply that is insulting to the widow, it’s insulting to the new love and it’s insulting to the love who was lost.”
“We’ve gone through hell fire and lived,” she concluded. “We don’t need your negativity in our lives. So please, if what you have to say about a widow or widower finding love again isn’t supportive and encouraging then keep it to yourself. We aren’t interested in hearing it.”
In a postscript, Roman congratulated Oswalt on his engagement if he should ever see the post.
He certainly did, as did his fans. His Facebook post was shared more than 10,500 times and reacted to with likes and hearts more than 133,000 times as of early Tuesday morning. And commenters poured in their support, many offering their own stories of grief and redemption, of feeling like their worlds has ended and slowly learning they hadn’t.
“As a proud AND humble husband of a widow (and that’s not a contradiction, BTW), this moved me to tears. My man cave (where I happened to read this) is a back yard shed which I share with the ashes of my wife’s 1st late husband. His urn sits out here because if he were still alive, this is the sort of place he would hang out a lot. It is my sincere honor to share this space with his memory, and to share space in her heart,” wrote Kevin D. Olson.
“When my mom died in my early 20s, I had to move in with my dad because I was so worried about him becoming buried in grief. His remarriage actually set me free,” wrote Morgan Moller.
“I was widowed at 41 and was fortunate enough to find the second love of my left a year later. We just celebrated our third wedding anniversary. … Everyone deserves the freedom to choose what’s best for their own hearts. And frankly it’s no one else’s damn business,” wrote Julie Rosenberg Marzoratti.
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