Patton Oswalt fears accidental prescription overdose in wife's death

Patton Oswalt has decided to share more details about his wife's sudden death.

In a heartbreaking profile with the New York Times, Oswalt describes being worried about wife Michelle McNamara's health in April, after watching her pour herself into a years-long investigation of the Golden State Killer. Non-stop work on her book about the subject, and believing she was close to tracking the serial killer down had worn on her, Oswalt says, and so he encouraged her to take a night off.

He suggested she relax and “sleep until you wake up," he says. The comedian tells the Times that on April 21, McNamara took some Xanax and went to bed.

The next morning his wife was still sleeping, says Oswalt, who drove their daughter Alice, 7, to school. He placed a coffee by her bedside table at 9:40 a.m., when he detected snoring.

When Oswalt checked on her again at 12:42 p.m, she wasn't breathing. When the paramedics arrived, they pronounced McNamara dead. She was 46.

According to a website linked to by the drugmaker Pfizer, mixing Xanax with alcohol or prescription pain or sleeping pills can lead to a fatal overdose. In February, The Chicago Tribune reported deaths from overdoses of widely used sedatives such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan have surged in recent years.

McNamara's death shocked Oswalt, 47, so deeply he willed himself to wake up from a nightmare. “I was literally blinking trying to get out of this,” he says.

The Times writes that six months later, the coroner’s office still has not declared a cause of death, but Oswalt suspects the Xanax was involved. “I have a feeling it might have been an overdose,” he says. “That’s what the paramedics there were saying while I was screaming and throwing up.”

Little has helped quell the pain since. In May, he put it this way: "She hasn't left a void. She's left a blast crater."

Oswalt says he's tried therapy, books like C. S. Lewis' A Grief Observed and drinking. “I found out the hard way these past few months that alcohol really doesn’t help,” he says.

The one thing that has helped? Stand-up comedy. Going onstage, he said, was “a rebuke to grief, an acceptance of the messiness of life. I’ll never be at 100 percent again, but that won’t stop me from living this.”

And his wife's work will live on. In August, the comedian took to Facebook to update fans on McNamara's passion project.

"Any spare energy I've managed to summon since April 21st I've put toward finishing Michelle's book," Oswalt wrote. "With a lot of help from some very amazing people. It will come out. I will let you know. It's all her. We're just taking what's there and letting it tell us how to shape it."


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