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Patton Oswalt Explains Grief Perfectly

Updated on August 2, 2016
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

Grief and Grieving Sucks

I've never watched Patton Oswalt on screen, but I know he's the voice of Remy the rat in Ratatouille. Regardless, he's also a man who's been dealing with the pain of his wife Michelle McNamara's sudden death 102 days ago, leaving Oswalt and their young daughter alone.

Oswalt hit social media yesterday to talk about his experiences in trying to navigate his journey through grief, and it's probably one of the most accurate explanations of what grief does to someone in its immediate aftermath.

"Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a dick," he said.

There are many who can connect with Oswalt's words, whether they have lost their partner, a sibling, a child, or really anyone. For so long, grief has been explained as a series of stages that so many believe are moved through in a linear fashion, but in reality, it's not.

The 5 Stages of Grieving

The 5 stages of grief were adapted by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, and have been popularized in media for years. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Rather than reviewing what each stage is made up of, it's important that it's recognized that each person's experience with grief is unique, and that the process of grieving doesn't always follow steps and stages like many people figure.

Patton Oswalt's Instagram post discussing his grief about his wife's death is very real and raw, and probably paints an accurate picture about what grief is like for those who may not have experienced it before. Certainly, degrees of grief vary, but at least Oswalt's given us a very real description of his journey, though there are many who could no doubt relate to what he's been through.

"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," he writes.

He's not wrong.

There's so many that have been gutted by the experience of grieving, where there's nothing else that you feel like doing beyond pulling your blanket up over your head and willing the world to go away for a while.

The thing is, grieving is so much like a spiral, where every so often you're reminded of the depth of the pain you felt in your loss, that while the feelings that Kubler-Ross describes in On Death and Dying are quite accurate, the term "stages" implies that as soon as you're done with one feeling, you move on to the next stage.

Grieving isn't that simple, though. There are days where you are low, inexplicably, and while you do get to a point where you can look back on memories without such a deep sense of sorrow, there are times where you feel the pain of not having that person in your life so deeply that they may have died yesterday.

Oswalt also realizes that swallowing grief away isn't going to help, either; he said that his daughter, Alice, is actually teaching her dad about how to move through his grief.

"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 said, suggesting that to work through it, he has to reach past the "ironic detachment."


Grieving is not easy

Patton Oswalt is learning, like all of us ultimately do, how to navigate his grief. It's amazing that he's been able to encapsulate the experience as accurately as he has; for so many, grief is such an intangible experience that is so deeply agonizing and so intimate that it's hard to explain what grieving actually feels like.

What he has given us is a profoundly moving experience that all of us can connect to.

What does grief look like?


A TED talk on grief


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