courtesy Rosie Davis Mary Castro (left) and Rosie Davis
Rosie Davis remembers first growing worried about her mother in March, as cases of a mysterious new virus spread through the United States — slowly, at first, and then faster and faster and faster.
Davis’ mom, Mary Castro, was then living in a nursing home in Dallas. Long-term care facilities like Castro’s had become troubling sites of outbreaks in the emerging novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Castro — a former nurse who put herself through school while working graveyard shifts at a hospital and raising her kids as a single mom — was at increased risk.
Her health had begun to decline in recent years. Still, she remained alert and curious, always attentive during visits with her daughter, who made the 10-minute trip every day.
By the time coronavirus cases were confirmed around Dallas in March, Castro’s nursing home went into a complete lockdown. Davis, a 44-year-old aesthetician, continued visiting her mother but they were now separated by a glass window.
When Davis arrived on Mother’s Day, in May, she says she immediately noticed “something was really wrong” with Castro.
“She was not very alert. We had to tap on the window to get her attention. She couldn’t hold her own gift,” Davis says. “That was a big red flag for me.”
“At this time, there was still no mask mandate in Dallas County,” Davis says of her mom. “She had a mask on but it was just looped around her earlobes, not covering her mouth or nose.”
Davis says she asked the nursing home, where there had been prior coronavirus cases, to examine her mom. But her pleas were unsuccessful. Eventually, she took it upon herself to call 911.
An ambulance arrived, and Davis said goodbye. The memory still makes her emotional.
“The last image I have of my mom was her being lifted into the back of an ambulance,” she tells PEOPLE.
Castro did not die quickly, but she did die alone.
Davis called multiple times each day that Castro was hospitalized. By May 16, a nurse said her mom was alert enough to speak on the phone.
“It was a breath of fresh air to hear her voice … She said, ‘Have the restrictions been lifted yet? I’m really tired and I don’t want to be in here anymore,’ ” Davis says. “And I told her, ‘I’m so sorry that I can’t be with you.’ “
“I believe she knew she was going to die,” Davis says now. “She told me, ‘I just want you to know I love you. I’m very proud of you and you’ve been the best daughter to me.’ Her last words to me were, ‘When you get to heaven, we’re going to look for each other.’ “
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courtesy Rosie Davis Mary Castro (center, behind glass) at her Dallas nursing home
The coronavirus killed her the next