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Sisters remember their parents, Kenneth and Terry Bridwell, with the songs they loved

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Terry and Kenneth Bridwell were married for 51 years.

SHELLY NOBLE: They wanted people to experience joy, and I think music was a really big part of that for them and for us growing up, too.

SHAPIRO: That's their daughter, Shelly Noble. In July of 2020, deep in the pre-vaccine early days of the pandemic, Terry and Kenneth died within days of one another from COVID-19. NPR's remembering people like the Bridwells through the music they loved in our tribute to lives lost called Songs of Remembrance. Shelly Noble and her sister Allison Leaver told us their mother, Terry, was endlessly creative. And Allison says she especially loved singing around the house.

ALLISON LEAVER: Mom would always sing to us. She would just start, you know, singing. And Shelly said - she goes, I think she was sometimes doing that to, like, get us out of being in a bad mood.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE")

JIMMIE DAVIS: (Singing) I dreamed I held you in my arms.

NOBLE: I think she did it to make us - just to make us smile or to - especially when you're, like, preteen or whatever, and there's, like, always angsty people walking around our house, like, just to break the tension.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE")

DAVIS: (Singing) You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray.

LEAVER: She loved to do projects with us, to keep us busy and to help us be creative. And...

NOBLE: Yeah, she was really into sewing. She made my veil for my wedding, and then she made our cousin's and then a family friend and then my best friend from Atlanta. And they were exquisite. You would have paid thousands of dollars for them.

LEAVER: My dad was very opinionated. Quite often, it was his way or the highway, but he was also a lot of fun.

NOBLE: I think what's one of my favorite memories is we were in - he used to like really large cars, big Cadillacs, and...

LEAVER: That purple Cadillac was, like, the love of his life. He loved that car so much, and he loved to take people riding in it at very fast speeds.

NOBLE: Yeah. Are you about to tell the railroad track story? Because that's what's in my head of like...

LEAVER: Go ahead.

NOBLE: ...Some family, friends and kids in the car. And it was just kids.

LEAVER: There was four or five of us. And I think we were going to Pizza Hut.

NOBLE: He was flying down whatever road it was because he wanted to, not - we weren't late, but it was just more fun.

LEAVER: And he was blasting music. Johnny Cash was one of his...

NOBLE: Johnny Cash. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RING OF FIRE")

JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down...

NOBLE: He hit this, like, kind of a dip and then a railroad track. And that Cadillac - I don't feel like I'm exaggerating when I'm telling you that it flew a little bit before - I mean, we got a lot of air and we were all, like, just screaming and laughing. And he just laughed and laughed. And then Johnny Cash was playing in the background.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RING OF FIRE")

CASH: (Singing) I fell for you like a child. Oh, but the fire went wild.

LEAVER: They got sick right around the Fourth of July in 2020. It was right after the Fourth of July.

NOBLE: It took my dad down pretty fast because I think his dementia played into it. So he ended up in the hospital, but Mom was not in the hospital when she passed away. She was at home.

LEAVER: And she thought she was feeling better until, like, one day she was telling me and she told the health care worker that was coming in - she goes, I don't think I can breathe. Then, like, at 3 or 4 in the morning, she called 911 because she couldn't breathe at all. Shelly actually got the message that Mom passed away, and then she called me. I was like, what? It was like, I couldn't even believe that that's what had happened.

NOBLE: That was terrible.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY CASH SONG, "YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE")

LEAVER: I want people to remember our mom and dad as folks who loved other people deeply and wanted them to feel loved and to feel joy and to really experience life.

SHAPIRO: That was sisters Allison Leaver and Shelly Noble remembering their parents, Kenneth and Terry Bridwell of Travelers Rest, S.C., who died from COVID-19. They were both 73 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE")

CASH: (Singing) I dreamed I held you in my arms. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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