After losing both my best friend and husband within six months, it felt like the universe was targeting me. I later learned that the sweetest thing we can hope for in life is to love and be loved.

Natalie Hopkinson
5 min readJan 1, 2022
Inside the Howard Theatre at the memorial service for Rudolph Michael Delano McGann, Jr., June 28, 1974 -March 29, 2021. Photo by Sam Johnson 3.

The year 2021 brought new superpowers. As it turns out, I can fix a clogged sink, and order and replace a part for a dryer. I can confront a political bully, and win. I can survive parenting crises and milestones alone. Most of all, 2021 taught me that people are awesome, and love is the greatest superpower of all.

My husband Rudy McGann passed away on March 29th at age 46 after an intense battle with brain cancer. We went on our first date when I was 18. Only now that I have lived without him for nine months can I fully appreciate what a privilege it is to share a life with someone so wonderful. It is also a privilege to hold someone’s hand, rub their back, and bear witness as your shared life comes apart.

It will happen to us all. One day, we will all be reduced to the basic elements: breath, joy, regret, hope, fear, desperation, breath. The sweetest thing we can hope for in this life is to love and be loved.

Rudy loved. Besides our two beautiful children, the greatest tangible gift he gave to me was for our 1st anniversary, which was 20 years ago. He bought a love-themed journal called “DESIRE.” Each page opened with an epigram about love by famous writers throughout history. He wrote detailed entries inspired by each passage with a related story, song verse, or insight about our relationship — then in its seventh year. He, a foodie and superb amateur chef, illustrated each entry with an actual memento from dozens of our favorite restaurants.

Of course I remember our Sunday brunches in Georgetown. That was part of my introduction to live jazz.

A red and yellow French fry box illustrated the story our first formal meeting at the campus McDonald’s. He wrote: “I remember telling a friend that I have found the one. Someone whom I can make happy with simple things and receive happiness in return.” In another entry, he pasted in a matchbox from U-topia restaurant. “We are living the Utopia. Forget the naysayers” who thought we were too young. A monogrammed napkin came from Jandara, the Thai place where he wrote about our super-friendly infant son who tried to crash other people’s dinners. “Thank you, Jandara, for accommodating us and our unruly toddler.” He always tipped well. The book was nearly 150 pages long.

Rudy was also loved. Funerals in the COVID era are challenging. A limited number of family and friends were allowed to join us in-person for the funeral service at the Howard Theatre just as people were getting the first COVID vaccines. People lined up to greet me in my black veil. I felt an energy charge with each loving embrace. After a series of virtual and in-person tributes from friends, family and colleagues, Rev. Dr. Roger Mitchell Jr. gave a brilliant eulogy that captured the spirit of Rudy. He channelled Rudy’s yearning to reconcile the church values he was raised in with the secular, Epicurean life we lived in DC. The sermon was filled with of verses from Rudy’s favorite hip-hop artists that perfectly expressed how my husband lived an intensely joyful life that artfully balanced service to his family and fellow humans.

We left the theatre and joined the jazz funeral (Second Line procession) through Shaw, LeDroit Park, and ended at Bloomingdale’s Crispus Attucks Park. The Metropolitan Police Department approved the parade route and protected our procession. We danced, cried, ate beignets in the streets in tribute to Rudy’s hometown of New Orleans. Neighbors put up purple and gold balloons in his honor. My sister Nicole is a sculptor. She beaded and feathered elaborate umbrellas for me and our daughter. Hundreds and friends and family from around the world watched live on YouTube, a virtual Second Line.

Above is the link to the Second Line parade through Shaw, LeDroit and Bloomingdale neighborhoods in DC.

2021 has taught me that people have extreme reactions to grief. At first, our house was overrun with visitors and meals. Flowers filled our house, “perfumed like the sweetness of our love,” as one friend poetically put it. Friends I had barely spoken to in years hosted me at mountain cabins, California beach houses, boat rides on the Potomac, college tours for our daughter. Unfriendly gentrifyer neighbors that I thought Rudy and I agreed were the worst, wrote elaborate condolence letters sharing their deep connections to, and admiration for Rudy. People gave generously to the Rudes McGann Memorial Scholarship Fund we set up at Howard in his honor to support Louisiana students.

Other friends stayed away. It was hurtful, but I don’t blame them. Cancer took my husband and childhood best friend within six months of each other. Rudolph McGann and Allison Ranelle Brown were both Howard graduates, both parents of teenagers, both public interest lawyers, both incredible human beings in their mid-40s. Even for me, it is hard not to feel like the universe is sending some targeted missile in my direction. Maybe they worried they might catch Covid. Maybe they were afraid that my sorrow and misfortune were contagious.

Natalie, Rudy and Allison circa 1999, when I was still in my black-and-white photography phase. I can’t imagine two more passionate, committed lawyers and public servants and better cheerleaders and friends.

It is scary to face our mortality. It is scary to risk our hearts. The last entry in Rudy’s love journal was a passage from Ernest Hemingway. It read: “If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.” Rudy, then in his mid- 20s, wrote on the side: “Whatever Ernest!!”

But Ernest was 100 % right. No one can avoid it. One day we will have to say goodbye to the people we love. It could be 30 days, or it could be 30 years. There is never enough time. The inevitable tragedy does not negate the fact that we are all still worthy of giving and receiving love.

No way to sugarcoat it: 2021 absolutely sucked. But I am still grateful to 2021 for fully revealing these superpowers.

Rudolph Michael Delano McGann. June 28, 1974-March 29, 2021. Above is the memorial service livestreamed from the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.