R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

On Returning from Maryland

As of 5:42 this morning, I was physically home from Maryland. Never have I cried so hard at a memorial service as I did on Tuesday, at my friend John “Mac” McNamara’s funeral. A thousand thanks to all of you who’ve helped me make this pilgrimage of sorrow, of loss, of gratitude, of goodbyes.

Despite having come there because of tremendous heartbreak, I did not want to leave Maryland. Emotionally, I’m still there. I can’t explain why. My intuition told me to stay: “Don’t go just yet. You’re not done here.” We shall see.

For the rest of my days, forever, I will be grateful to John. His kindness and encouragement that late March afternoon 16 years ago literally saved my life. When death felt like the only thing that would stop my suffering, John appeared almost out of nowhere to challenge that notion. He was the first person to suggest I write about my father’s 1997 murder—that I had not just a story, but a story that I told as no one else could. His words have buoyed me for almost two decades.

In the weeks since John’s murder, I’ve made almost no new photos. I’ve written hardly any new words. Words fail me, as does my sense of what makes a powerful image. At least I know this is normal. It’s how grief and trauma work.

But on the way to Maryland, at the Virginia state line rest stop, I did finally snap an image that fits the entire trip. This dead butterfly lay beautiful and broken next to the sidewalk for no apparent reason. The sight made me sob like a little kid.

Dearest Johnny Mac:
Thank you, sweet friend.
You are the reason I am still here.
You are the reason I am still telling my stories.
I will miss you forever.
I will see you on the other side.
And when I see you, I expect you to once again roast me for being a Boston Celtics fan. (I’ll be disappointed if you don’t.)

Always your friend,



  1. You did get these words right and the photo as well, Rachael….

    • Thank you, Bill. I imagine John would quibble with some of my phrasing, to which I’d reply, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, Mac—it has to be done Tuesday.” God bless him, his coworkers, and their families ❤️

  2. There is nothing that can take away our pain and loss when someone transitions. When it happens because of something senseless and stupid it is a thousand times worse. But life has a death sentence none of us escape. I think in the end, it is all about what you did with The time you had. And it seems like your friend really made the most of it. Enjoy the hell out of it himself and made a big difference in the world while he was here. Not that many of us can say that.

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