"If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I loved her?"--Garth Brooks
Chairs were spaced widely in the front lawn of the fashionable white house just outside Harrison. On the porch were photographs, videos and mementos of a woman whose love for others and faith in God played an enormous role in her life.
Each wearing a protective mask, hundreds of mourners chatted in muffled voices. Others drove through the home's circular driveway in the Savannah subdivision to wave and sign the visitation book.
The immense porch overlooking distant mountains had been Mary Kathryn Watts Patrick's favorite place to seek peace and wile away hours with friends. She always knew how to make any visitor comfortable.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Think of the most lovable person you know--the one with smiling eyes and a tender heart who loves laughter. You've likely envisioned my beloved 68-year-old friend Mary Patrick. Born and raised in the nearby Ozark hamlet of Cozahome, she was the only girl, with five protective brothers.
Beautiful inside and out, Mary grew into adulthood surrounded by friends that quickly expanded as she moved to Harrison. There she forged an accomplished 40-year administrative career with the region's Area Agency on Aging beginning in 1979, eventually becoming its deputy director and retiring in 2014.
She met and married Ron Patrick 34 years ago. Together they had their only child, Casey, now 31. Among her many attributes, Mary was a devoted wife and loving mother who forged an indelible connection with her daughter over the years.
Then, one by one, four of Mary's brothers began to pass away.
In September her fourth brother, Dan, the sibling she'd always felt closest to, became infected with covid-19. Unlike many virus victims whose symptoms are relatively mild, Dan's was a deadly serious case that rapidly worsened, and by mid-September Mary was burying him.
On Sept. 12, while visiting family for Dan's funeral, Mary developed a persistent cough and fever. Conditions quickly worsened as she retreated to bed, where her fear was obvious: Could this be covid-19? Thankfully, the initial test showed she'd instead contracted seasonal flu.
Yet her condition quickly degenerated until Mary was transported by ambulance to the Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville where a covid diagnosis was confirmed. Treatment (such as it is with this virus) began immediately.
But the hideous beast grew progressively stronger until overwhelming Mary's natural defenses. She was placed on a ventilator for the next 15 days, a particularly ominous sign for 35 percent of covid patients. An outstanding nursing staff carefully watched over Mary, repeatedly keeping Casey and Ron informed of her condition.
Signs for her recovery initially seemed positive, as if she soon would recover and be released to her family and her precious dog, Toby. A hopeful Ron even washed Mary's robe as he readied their home for her return.
Yet this beast that has claimed more than 1,700 Arkansas lives would not be defeated. It arose seemingly overnight from its deceptive repose, refusing to release its grip and making Mary steadily weaker as Casey kept hundreds of friends (many lifelong like Wayne and Debbie Ruff and Gary and Lela Garrison) anxiously waiting online for updates on her condition.
After two weeks of decline into a coma on a ventilator, on Oct. 15, Casey and Ron were summoned one at a time to don protective suits and gently hold Mary's hand a final time.
In those final tender and sacred moments, they bade farewell to the person they'd loved most in their lives as she edged toward the heaven she was certain awaited. The ventilator was disconnected and Mary drifted from this troubled world, hopefully aware of how much she was loved into a far better place. With her passing faded one of the world's brightest spirits I've ever known.
Mary Buckley, a retired nurse from the agency, knew Mary well. She saw Mary as "a beautiful lady who never raised her voice, talked down to anyone, or became angry."
"Mary was always encouraging, just a joy to work for and be around," she said. "I always felt better after talking with Mary or being with her. When I joined the agency it was only to stay for a couple of years. But I stayed for 20 because of Mary and retired with her."
The Mary Patrick I cherished set such a positive example for everyone around her. She lived the way we all should, reflecting kindness, love, compassion, patience, humor, reverence and respect.
She will always be remembered that way by those who knew and loved her, especially those who last week attended her memorial service on and around that grand front porch she so cherished. I have no doubt, nor does her family, that Mary's spirit is part of the heaven she viewed as glorious beyond human comprehension.
Mary also left us a cautionary message. This beast can and does sink its claws deeply into anyone literally overnight.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.