When Maria Elena Saenz died of COVID-19 complications on Aug. 23 at Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen, she died alone. Her daughter Veronica, who bore close witness to her mother’s life, laments that her mother died alone.

“I understand the public health issues,” Veronica said. “But I believe my mother could have fought this virus, or at the very least she would have died with more dignity, if I had been allowed to be by her side.”

“Everything my mother did in her life was about her family. She cared for us, and we cared for each other, so being sick and not having anyone to fight the sickness with, that alone could have killed her,” Veronica added. “She could’ve had a chance.”

Being there for others was a way of life for Mary, as family and friends called her. Born July 22, 1952, in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mary loved, and was beloved.

“Mary was warm, loving, and hilarious. She always had a smile on her face, always, and just loved to have fun,” said Vivian Vargas, a lifelong friend of the Saenz family, who also bore close witness to Mary’s life. “There is no question Mary was the matriarch, the person everyone leaned on, especially during hard times.”

While Mary experienced great joy and love, her family also endured deep loss.

“My mom was the one who took care of everyone. When someone died or someone got sick, my mom was there to help heal,” Veronica said.

“Mary was the one who helped others grieve, always there to help,” Vivian recalls. “Veronica’s father and my father died during the past seven to eight years, and Mary was the consistent rock in helping others deal with our losses.”

Vivian herself contracted the virus in June.

“My mom and I got it, don’t really know where, but I’m sure we spread it to a lot of our family. We thought we were being careful, but you can’t be careful enough,” she said.

When Vivian felt sick, she checked into the hospital.

“I didn’t know if I was going to come out alive,” she said. “The COVID unit at the hospital had patients at different levels of severity, but there just weren’t enough doctors for all the people coughing, yelling, and the chaos.”

Veronica describes her mother as calm and collected, but unable to handle the COVID-induced stress that enveloped the hospital.

“My mother never showed anxiety in her life,” Veronica said. “She was always calm, but the environment in the hospital was something she couldn’t deal with, at least not by herself. She needed me!”

Veronica and Vivian argue that having family close to their sick loved ones can provide a boost, and perhaps save lives.

“If not save her life, at least my mother could have died differently,” Veronica said. “And that’s important.”

The loss of her mother, but especially the way she died, continues to haunt Veronica.

“I haven’t had the guts to go through my mom’s stuff, not even find her yearbook to tell you when she graduated from PSJA High School. It’s in boxes in my spare bedroom, but I’m not ready. I know I’ll break if I get into it,” she said.

“My mom was great. She was always there. She loved and was loved. But after she helped so many for so many years, I just feel we could not help her the way she deserved,” Veronica said.

We can only hope reflection and eulogy help Veronica assuage the loss of her mother.

Que en paz descanse Mary Saenz. Rest in peace.

Francisco Guajardo, chief executive officer for the Museum of South Texas History at 200 N. Closner Blvd. in Edinburg, authored this story as part of an ongoing series entitled Bearing Witness. The museum’s effort aims to document some of the Rio Grande Valley lives lost to COVID-19. For more information about the museum, visit