Health

Janet Kilty, 74: John Denver’s ‘Grandma’s Feather Bed’

Janet Kilty, of Islip, N.Y., was 10 days shy of turning 75 when she died from COVID-19.

Courtesy of Tim Erdmann


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Courtesy of Tim Erdmann

Janet Kilty, of Islip, N.Y., was 10 days shy of turning 75 when she died from COVID-19.

Courtesy of Tim Erdmann

More than 500,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit this country and the world just over a year ago. NPR is remembering some of those who lost their lives by listening to the music they loved and hearing their stories. We’re calling our tribute Songs Of Remembrance.

Janet loved John Denver’s music generally, but we all used to sing “Grandma’s Feather Bed” with her as young children. She loved hearing all of us sing along to it. It always made her laugh and super happy.

The song is about joy and family. Denver sings about the bed being big enough for the whole family and their animals. One line goes, “Didn’t get much sleep, but we had a lot of fun on Grandma’s feather bed.” Everyone is together, the whole family, and despite any hardships, we’re together and happy.

It always brought joy. There were five of us kids growing up and she was a single parent working as a nurse at a nursing home through the majority of it. There was always laughter in the house despite any rough times. The song reminds you to be silly, not to lose the memories or perspective of being a kid. As adults scattered around the country, no matter if we were all together or just some of us, we’d never fail to bust into a sing-a-long of this song, with everyone laughing.

Most of us couldn’t say goodbye to her in person, but we all got together on the phone as the nurse at the hospital held the phone up to her so we could say our goodbyes. We were trying to be positive and upbeat, letting her know we’d all be OK. It was just before Christmas, just days before her 75th birthday on December 31. And we all broke out singing “Grandma’s Feather Bed” to her. The song has a different meaning now, but we were trying to bring her joy, to know that she was loved — and despite the pain, we were a family and we were together. —Tim Erdmann, son

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