MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — For Brenda Swanson and Donna Smith, there's one word that best describes their mother: spunky.
"Mom loved dressing up. She loved wearing wild clothes and hats," Brenda Swanson said. "She was loved by everyone because she was spunky."
Mildred Bowlin was a Red Hatter who loved to sing, dance and have fun. She was a mother to four girls and she was someone who always wanted to enjoy herself and made sure the people around her were having fun too.
"Everyone wanted to be around her, wanted to get to know her," Donna Smith said. "She might have been the littlest one in the room, but everybody knew she was there."
In 2019, Mildred moved to The Heritage Center nursing home in Morristown. Her daughters said she loved it there — even during the pandemic.
"Heritage couldn't have been nicer to us ... they would push her to the door so we could see her," Brenda said. "They had a drive-through parade that all the residents were sitting outside with umbrellas and hats."
But in late August, COVID-19 began spreading through the facility. Mildred Bowlin was diagnosed in mid-September.
"We don't blame the hospital or nursing home for my mom's COVID-19. It's just something that can't be helped," Brenda said.
Nearly 500 long-term care facilities in the state have also reported outbreaks.
Her mother spent 18 days fighting COVID-19 in the local hospital. Her daughters took turns visiting, putting on layers of personal protective equipment so that they could be by her side.
"It's horrible to experience," Brenda said. "Some cases, maybe not so much, but our mother suffered really bad in the hospital for two weeks. She couldn't breathe."
On October 8, Mildred Bowlin died from complications related to COVID-19. Her daughters are thankful for the chance they had to say goodbye.
"I thought honestly, she would live to be 100. I thought she's so spunky, she's come through everything she's done," Donna said. "And COVID-19, she couldn't come through."
Donna and Brenda want everyone to take this virus seriously — if not for themselves, for others like their mother.
"That's why it's so important to be careful," Brenda said. "Because if mom hadn't had COVID-19, I don't think she would have died."
Things like wearing a mask and social distancing can help slow the spread of COVID-19. And in some cases, save a life.
"Please take this seriously. Don't let this happen to your family member like it has us," Donna said. "Hold your loved ones. Tell them you love them ... Don't think you have forever because you don't."