Santa Clarita residents Mary and Roy M. Rios celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on Feb. 4 at their new home in Oakmont of Valencia’s memory care facility.
Little did they know that less than two months later, their lives would change forever, as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the Santa Clarita Valley.
Not long after their anniversary celebration, they both battled COVID-19 at age 88. Mary survived, but Roy did not.
Building a family
The Rioses met through mutual friends and dated for a while before they were married in 1961, according to their daughter Laura Guerrero.
Mary and Roy complemented each other — where Roy was a jokester, Mary was very quiet and reserved.
“He was very musical,” Guerrero said, adding that he used to sing and play guitar, bongo drums and harmonica. “He was very, very outgoing as far as that goes, because he used to play guitar at people’s weddings, not as entertainment, but just to join in and have fun.”
The Rioses were a typical Hispanic family, with five daughters, along with Roy’s son from a previous marriage, Guerrero said.
“He was a dedicated father, and worked hard,” Guerrero added. “He worked three jobs when we were all little so that he could support us.”
Roy was also an avid deer hunter, and Guerrero has fond memories of the many camping trips they used to take as a family.
“In the beginning, that’s how he put food on the table,” she said. “And, he would take us with him when he went hunting.”
While Roy worked various jobs, including as a custodian for the Los Angeles Unified School District for many years, Mary was the homemaker, who stayed home to care for her daughters.
“She did everything for us,” Guerrero added. “She taught us how to sew, she taught us how to cook.”
In the early 1970s, the Rios family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, where they remained until Roy retired in the late 1990s, when the couple decided to travel a bit before settling down in Rosamond with one of their daughters.
Back to the SCV
On Jan. 1, Mary and Roy moved to Oakmont of Valencia, which was closer to Guerrero and her other sisters.
“They were having a great time,” Guerrero said. “They were very active, making a lot of friends and just totally enjoying themselves.”
Guerrero was there almost on a daily basis, visiting with her parents and having coffee with them.
“I got to know a lot of the people and the caregivers and the staff,” she added. “I’m very fond of them and I’m very happy with the whole situation as far as them living there … It’s a great facility.”
When Guerrero began hearing talks of COVID-19 and heard that the facility was most likely going into quarantine, things started to change quickly.
“They had been telling us that this is most likely what’s going to happen, so I went in, I made sure they had their typical snacks that they like and any supplies that they needed, and spent some time with them,” she said.
That was March 13, the last time she would spend time with her parents together.
After they went into quarantine, Guerrero kept in touch with her parents as much as possible, with the help of Oakmont staff, who helped to facilitate FaceTime calls, but things quickly took a turn for the worst.
“We had known, I believe, that first week of April that something was wrong, because they had asked us for permission to test them,” Guerrero said. “So, that’s when we knew they were showing signs of illness.”
On April 4, both Mary and Roy tested positive for COVID-19, and Guerrero felt helpless, unable to be there to care for her sick parents.
“It was a scary thing,” she said. “It’s your parent, but at the same time, it’s like your child — you would do anything for them. And, you can’t do anything at that time, because you couldn’t be around them. So, it was just really hard.”
For Guerrero, it was difficult not knowing what was going on with her parents, though she did her best to help them however she could.
“Ironically, the last time I saw my dad, my husband and I were taking some supplies over to them,” she said.
It was just three days after they had both tested positive, and when Guerrero pulled up to Oakmont to drop off the groceries, there was an ambulance out front.
“I nonchalantly, very kiddingly said, ‘That’s not for my dad, right?’” Guerrero said. “He was pretty miserable, he was in pain, but I did get to see him at that time.”
That fleeting moment as her father was loaded into the back of an ambulance would be the last time she saw him.
“There’s things you would do differently if you knew that was the last time you were ever going to see your parent,” she said.
Roy was taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, while Mary remained back at Oakmont alone.
“She kept asking for him, and at the time, we just were hoping and praying that he would get better,” Guerrero said. “We would give her updates.”
With prior upper respiratory issues, the virus hit Roy very hard.
“He had issues with his lungs anyway because of continuous bronchitis and pneumonia,” Guerrero added. “But, he never went on a ventilator. He stayed breathing on his own with (oxygen). So, we just kept telling my mom that he was still fighting.”
About a week later, on April 15, as Roy continued his fight, Mary got pneumonia and joined Roy at the hospital. “He was on the fourth floor and she was on the fifth floor.”
Roy fought for a long time, and spent a total of 18 days in the hospital before he lost the fight and died on April 24.
“He just never recovered,” Guerrero said. “His body just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Mary had just been released from the hospital the day prior, and was allowed to return back to Oakmont, as she only had a little bit of a cough and was no longer showing symptoms of COVID-19.
“It was difficult,” Guerrero said. “We didn’t want her to give up on life or herself, we wanted her to keep healing … So, out of respect for my dad and for her, we decided that we needed to bring her home and be with the family so that we can let her know that her husband had passed away. She needed to be surrounded by her family, you know? So that’s what we did.”
Once Guerrero had consulted a grief counselor and brought her mother home, they told her that her husband had died. “Of course, she was upset and devastated, who wouldn’t be? But we were all here to surround her and continue to (do so) with all the love and support that we can.”
Mary has been home with her daughter ever since, while Guerrero and her family have taken every precaution they can to protect each other from the virus.
“She seems to be doing OK, but of course, she’s missing my dad,” she said. “My dad hasn’t technically been laid to rest. The facility is Joshua Memorial (Park) in Lancaster, and they’re holding a spot for us for when she gets stronger, so that we can have a service.”
So much has changed for the family in a matter of weeks, and for Guerrero, it still feels bizarre. “It’s almost like it’s not real, like a foggy dream.”
Roy M. Rios is survived by his son, five daughters, 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.