In February 2020, Manuel and Yolanda Benavides commemorated their 50th wedding anniversary early at the annual Silver and Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass coordinated by the Diocese of Laredo’s Family Life Office. Yolanda had no idea, at the time, that she would be burying her husband on the actual day of their anniversary just a few months later. In spite of her immense grief, Yolanda’s unwavering faith has carried her, and she finds comfort reflecting on how God was present during her husband’s heart-wrenching battle against the disease that has taken so many lives far too soon and without any warning.
Since 2019, Manuel and Yolanda had planned a July vacation to the Caribbean to celebrate their golden anniversary with their children and grandchildren. Yolanda fondly described how she envisioned taking a family photo in front of the ocean with every family member dressed in white. Instead, Yolanda, her four children and their spouses, and her 11 grandchildren wore white and gathered in celebration of the life of her husband as they said their final goodbye on July 31st—what would have been the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.
On Monday, June 15th, Manuel left work early as a precaution when he developed a cough. The following day, he had a fever. He immediately got tested for COVID-19; though at the time, results were not received for 10-15 days. In the meantime, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Manuel was sent home with medicine and instructed to return if he wasn’t feeling better after three days. When he returned to the emergency room, after his symptoms did not improve, Manuel was told that he had the flu and sent home with Tamiflu. The following day, Manuel’s daughter insisted that he go to the hospital after he woke up with a very low oxygen level. As she drove him there, he confided with worry to his daughter that he just knew he had COVID-19, in spite of not having the results. Concerned for his family, Manuel told her that he wanted everyone in the family to get tested, even offering to pay for the testing.
When Manuel first arrived at the hospital, he seemed to be doing okay; but that all changed from one week to the next. Yolanda was praying and hoping for the best when she received a call from a nurse who shared that Manuel was not going to pull through. The nurse offered to arrange for a virtual call the next day. Yolanda, still believing the situation could change for the better, contacted a friend from her church to ask for help in finding a priest who could administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Monsignor James Harris (Pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Church, Laredo), arrived at the hospital when the family was on the video call with Manuel. The nurses advised Monsignor Harris that Manuel would not live longer than 15 more minutes, so Msgr. Harris gave him his last rites as soon as the call ended. Still gathered together, Manuel’s family prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for him at the same time. Just minutes after the family finished praying the chaplet, Manuel passed away.
Given the timing of the events—the fact that Manuel was able to receive his last rites, and that the family finished praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before he passed away—Yolanda felt the grace our Lord bestowed upon her family, even though they were in disbelief that Manuel was called home so suddenly.
Manuel was reportedly the 46th person to test positive for COVID-19 in Laredo. Other family members tested positive for COVID-19 as well. The family delayed the wake and funeral until everyone recovered. Yolanda describes her husband as a “very good man,” and she shared that “he was always helping the church.” In fact, the last photo Yolanda has of her husband is one of him changing the toilet seat at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church after he found out it was broken.
While it was difficult to bury her husband on what would have been their golden anniversary, Yolanda felt a sort of peace knowing that her final goodbye to Manuel in this earthly life was on the same day, years later, when their journey together first began.
While Manuel is greatly missed by his beloved wife, children and grandchildren, the family remains united drawing strength from their unwavering faith in our Lord. Projects at the family’s small ranch have brought them a sense of comfort.
One teenage grandson is painting a family tree inside the house, and Manuel’s sons had a small chapel built. By Easter, his daughter hopes to finish painting a Divine Mercy image to adorn the chapel. Every evening, Yolanda is filled with a sense of inner peace, as she gathers virtually with all of her kids and grandkids (ranging in age from three to 20) to pray the rosary. The grief may not soon go away, but it is easier to bear wrapped in the arms of our Heavenly Father.
The Benavides Family remains united in prayer.