Patton Oswalt announces his engagement - and strikes back at 'grub worm' critics

Actor Patton Oswalt attending the premiere of Baby Driver, on June 14, 2017.
Actor Patton Oswalt attending the premiere of Baby Driver, on June 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - Comedian Patton Oswalt, who has publicly wrestled with grief over the sudden death of his wife last year, announced over the weekend that he was engaged to be married to actress Meredith Salenger.

That news was met with messages of support from many others who have recently lost a spouse, including Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, as well as some predictable online grousing from what Oswalt called "bitter grub worms." Salenger, who may be best known for her role in the 1980s Disney movie The Journey of Natty Gann, announced their engagement on Twitter last week, and representatives for the pair later confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter.

Oswalt, 48, said Saturday that he had planned to ignore online commenters who accused him of moving on too soon from the death of his first wife, Michelle McNamara, a 46-year-old true-crime writer who died in her sleep in April 2016. Oswalt said in February that she had died from a combination of an undiagnosed heart condition and a mix of prescription medications, including Adderall, Xanax and fentanyl.

But Oswalt changed course over the weekend to share an angry blog post - title: "A Widow's Rage Defense of Patton Oswalt's Engagement" - written in his defense by Erica Roman, a writer who said she lost her husband three days before the death of McNamara.

"I felt this rage," he wrote on Facebook. "And Erica articulated it better than I could have ever hoped."

Salenger, 47, soon did the same, sharing Roman's piece and then posting a statement of her own on Twitter in response to critics. Salenger focused on the happiness and well-being of Oswalt and McNamara's 8-year-old daughter, Alice.

"Who gave you the position to judge when it's 'too soon' for a person who has suffered the worst to be able to find happiness and companionship again?" Roman wrote in her blog post. "How long should a widow sit in isolation before you are comfortable enough to release them from their solitary confinement?"

Roman congratulated the couple on their engagement and said she was glad to see that Oswalt's heart "had expanded." "I used that word intentionally," she wrote. "I say expanded because that's what widowed hearts do. They expand. One love isn't moved out to make room for someone new. An addition is built."

Sandberg, who has spoken often of her grief over the unexpected death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, in May 2015, also weighed in with a message of support for Oswalt and Salenger and praise for Roman's piece.

"I laughed and cried a bit because what you are saying is so true," she wrote on Facebook. "No one should judge another's path - and everyone deserves to find love again."

Oswalt, a stand-up comedian known for a string of roles on film and television, including the sitcom The King of Queens, has been very public about his struggle with grief after the death of his wife. In an interview with The New York Times last October, Oswalt said he would "never be at 100 percent again." He described finding McNamara's body in bed, watching in horror as paramedics swarmed their bedroom, the pain of telling his daughter the next day, and then the months of anguish that followed.

"Grief is an attack on life," he told The Times at the time. "It's not a seducer. It's an ambush or worse. It stands right out there and says: 'The minute you try something, I'm waiting for you.'"