Songs of Remembrance

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. More than a million people have died in the United States from the disease.

To put a face on this number and pay respect to the departed, NPR asked our audience to share songs that reminded them of a loved one lost to COVID-19. What follows are individual stories of those who have passed, those mourning them and the songs that continue to unite them.

photo of Melissa Warner Burrows

via Jessica Burrows Falcon

Melissa Warner Burrows, 56

Paul Anka's 'Times of Your Life'

She was diagnosed with COVID in late December of 2021. The last time I actually got to hug her and see her, alive and awake, was Christmas Day.

I was blessed with so many memories of my mother, especially because she had a stroke at the age of 37 when my brother and I were really young. There was a point when they weren't sure if my mother was going to make it, and she did. So I think of all the memories that we got to have, and I was lucky that I had a second chance to make with her.

You get a lot of mornings where you wake up, and there's that little moment before your brain's fully awake. And you forget. You forget what happened. And then you fully wake up, and then you remember, "That's right. They're gone." Especially in the first couple of weeks after she had died, it was hard waking up: I feel like I've got to check on her. I'm used to the routine of calling the hospital to get the morning report. And then it's having to stop and go, "Wait, that's not happening anymore."

This was a song that my mom and my grandfather, my Pop-Pop, danced to at her wedding. My mom and my grandfather were very much the same: They both were happy to be behind the scenes, they didn't really want to be in the spotlight, but they were very caring, handy people. I'd like to think that they are up in heaven having a father-daughter dance to that song right now. Hopefully when I'm a very old lady and I've had my own children and grandchildren, I will see her again on that other side.

photo of Jeffrey Whitaker

Via Tina Neyer

Jeffrey Whitaker, 67

Adele's 'Hello'

My brother was retired Air Force. As a single man, his life was full: Jeff was an aeronautical engineer who did a stint on the transport plane that took the space shuttle from Cape Canaveral to Edwards Air Force Base. He was an avid cyclist. He also was fully vaccinated at the time he contracted the virus. Because he was being treated for lymphoma on an ongoing basis, the virus was too much for him. I miss our Sunday morning calls, something he did every Sunday before heading off to church. They were our way of connecting across the country, across our political differences, across the divide of our lives.

The song that comes to mind is Adele's "Hello." My brother likely didn't know this song, but as I sat in his apartment in the Mojave Desert in December last year, attempting to clean out the place, I wanted to connect with him in some way. I've played the song many times since then. It brings me closer to him.

Because of circumstances beyond my control, my brother died alone, but for the loving nurse who assured me he would stay with him as he took his last breath. Adele's song helps me to believe that in some way, I keep connected to Jeff. I share this with NPR because it is important to me that he be remembered, that Jeff's name is said.

photo of The Rev. Vickey Gibbs

Via Shannon Young

The Rev. Vickey Gibbs, 57

'For Good' from 'Wicked'

When I started working at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston and met Vickey, the associate pastor, so that she could show me the ropes, I knew that we would be friends. Once we broke the ice and discovered that we both loved to cook and to eat good food, everything clicked and we found we had a lot of other things in common. Every time I hear the song "For Good" from Wicked, I think about my friend. Her outlook on life and the way she lived her faith will forever have an impact on me, and I am changed because I knew her.

photo of Lillie, 68, Norbert, 70, and Lorenz Pechuli, 50

Courtesy of Cecil Pechuli

Lillie, 68, Norbert, 70, and Lorenz Pechuli, 50

'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'

I lost my mother, Lillie Pechuli, and then a week later I lost my brother, Lorenz Pechuli, and then even a few weeks after that, I lost my father, Norbert Pechuli. It was pretty tough to lose all my immediate family in quick succession like that. I would say a song that reminds me of family is "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," because I think we were always busy with our own lives but we always found time to meet up, and no matter what happens we were always going to be OK. We were always looking out for each other.

The song "Baby Love" by The Supremes reminds me of my mother. The music is very upbeat like her, and every time it came on, she would turn up the radio. When I think of my father, I think of "Born on the Bayou" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. My father was a firefighter and worked in forestry for his whole life. As a kid, I would go to his office, and he'd be busy doing paperwork or getting ready to go somewhere to fight fire, and that song was always on. My brother's favorite song was "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty. When I hear it, I remember cruising around in his truck going to sports games. He was my Little League coach and coached other teams in our community. I could also confide in him. He was just the coolest big brother. That's all I've got to say.

photo of Albert Daniel Sanchez

Via Lori Sanchez

Albert Daniel Sanchez, 82

Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven'

This was our dad's favorite song. He loved classical guitar. When we were kids, my sister, brother, and I danced around him as he played.

Our dad was full of life. He was generous with his time and was always eager to help others. He could fix anything, even broken hearts. He was one of the original girl dads: He coached our softball teams, taught us how to pitch a tent and showed us how to repair things with a hammer, screwdriver and even a butter knife!

In addition to being a Super Dad and "Grand Paw," he was an incredible, loving husband. He and my mom were happily married for 59 years. In his last days, he told us, "I love your mother so much." They were inseparable.

We are doing our best to carry on. We know he is in heaven, keeping watch over us.

photo of Angel E. Nieto

Via Priscilla Nieto LoBiondo

Angel E. Nieto, 63

'Píllaro Viejo'

My father lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., for most of his life and moved to Newark, N.J., in 2019. He never got to go back and visit his hometown in Ecuador. He had plans to become a U.S. citizen and eventually go, but that never happened.

This was my mom's and my dad's song. They would always dance to it at family parties. Whenever I hear this song, I think of him and his sense of humor. He was a great dancer, but above all, he was an amazing father.

photo of Jim Parker

Courtesy of Jill Zamostny

Jim Parker, 68

The Beatles' 'Blackbird'

My dad was a big lover of music. He would always share that, when he was younger, he either wanted to be a professional baseball player or a rock star. He loved The Beatles, and "Blackbird" was actually the song that my dad and I danced to at my wedding. I have had health challenges growing up — I use a wheelchair — so my parents had a little more stress and difficulty, I think, than most parents. He did everything in his power so that I could be independent, and I had the same opportunities that my sister had. He never treated us any differently from each other. He always supported us in every way, and I feel that's what that song signifies. —Jill Zamostny, daughter

He was the center of our family, so there's no better tribute, really. ... I think when he passed away, the adjective we received a lot from family and friends was his gentleness. He was just such a gentle, kind soul — he truly was. I think life is moving on for people, as it should, but I think people forget there have been over a million deaths. Let's not forget that.

photo of Scott Stewart

Courtesy of Shannon Hunt

Scott Stewart, 57

Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird'

My "bonus dad," Scott "Scooter" Stewart of Shiloh, Ill., passed away in January 2021 from COVID complications. He was a mechanic.

"Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd has been the song all of Scott's loved ones associate with him and play in memory of him. Scott loved Southern and classic rock, and many of my childhood memories include spending days helping him (or getting in the way) as he worked on projects in the garage with the stereo blasting our local classic rock station, K-SHE. "Free Bird" was always one of his favorites, and he could really belt it out. Anytime he was out at the bar, he would play it over the jukebox, even paying extra money to have his selection skip to the front. Everyone knew Scooter was in the house when they heard that familiar guitar opening.

Almost as soon as they heard news of his passing, everyone he knew was sharing photos of themselves playing "Free Bird" and raising a glass in his honor. Everyone knew it was his song, and it was beautiful.

After his death, the song's lyrics took on new meaning for me. The opening words, "If I leave here tomorrow / Would you still remember me?" were ones he contemplated often. Over a year after the loss, it's very clear that not one person he met will ever forget Scott Stewart. I hear "Free Bird" all the time on the radio or out and about; it always makes me smile and think of him, and it's like he's still with me. He's as free as a bird now.

photo of Bobby McCoskey

via Debra McCoskey-Reisert

Bobby McCoskey, 55

Semisonic's 'Closing Time'

My brother was intellectually disabled. Bobby attended dances that were organized for disabled people. He liked this song because they played it at the dances. He was even prom king one year.

photo of David Hardee

Via Danielle Hardee

David Hardee, 67

Three Dog Night's 'Joy to the World'

My dad died in Jackson, Tenn., on March 17, 2021. He got sick in January, right before the vaccine would have been available to him, and they weren't set up properly to get him the monoclonal infusion quickly. That two-day delay was deadly. He suffered alone in the hospital but got well enough to be discharged with oxygen. Then, six days later, his lung collapsed and he was in the ICU. After two weeks on the vent, he told us he was ready to die.

He was so joyous and full of life! He loved music, from Three Dog Night to the Stones and so many more — mostly '70s, but he would dig the hair bands of the '80s, Dave Matthews and all kinds of rock. He loved to belt out "Joy to the World" around the kitchen or the pool while grilling. Last Christmas, I got my sisters and stepmom a shirt with that on it. It's just silly and fun and lighthearted, and it reminds me of the times before COVID became our constant worry and our nightmare. He had asthma, so he knew as soon as COVID was out there that it could kill him. He tried to be so careful, but he still had to work to pay the bills. He grew up in the country and became an attorney with a small practice he built. That's all he did, and he loved it. He loved helping people. He wanted two words on his gravestone: "He cared."

photo of Steve Rogers

Via Laurie Ames

Steve Rogers, 64

Heart's 'Barracuda'

He was a front-line worker, driving for Uber in Detroit. He died from COVID in February 2020, very early into the pandemic. He loved girl bands and blues singers, and his favorite was Heart. I can't help but think of him when I hear "Barracuda."

photo of Michael Lee Cyrus

Via Marissa Cyrus

Michael Lee Cyrus, 72

Andy Williams' 'Love is a Many-Splendored Thing'

My father had a deep love of oldies: His mother died when he was 13 and his music likes stunted after that, so he was a huge fan of older music. He loved this song because it reminded him of his mom, how love is multifaceted and how it's critical to be brave enough to love in life, even when it pains you to. He also told me, "Don't let a bitter plant take root." I think that always ties back to his belief that love was an important blessing that more people needed to have in their lives.

photo of Elfriede Liselotte Matza Froisland

Via Kristin Ziegler

Elfriede Liselotte Matza Froisland, 93

Dolly Parton's 'Dumb Blonde'

My grandmother was born in Augsburg, Germany; she got her U.S. citizenship not long after the release of this song. I think my grandmother used music, especially the country music her American ex-husband introduced her to, to understand American culture — and she saw a lot of herself in Dolly. Both were musically inclined, pretty and blond, and dealt with their hardships, but had poise and wit on their sides. Also, like Dolly, my grandmother was boundlessly charismatic.

Elfriede remained a lifelong Dolly Parton fan: She had Dolly photos and memorabilia throughout her apartment. Some items she even won through Dolly Parton look-alike contests. I chose to submit "Dumb Blonde" because it captures Elfriede's bold, sassy, resilient spirit, and the pride she took in her signature big blond hair.

photo of Jeremy Ruck

Via Holly Ruck

Jeremy Ruck, 50

The Alan Parsons Project's 'Don't Answer Me'

Jeremy was a broadcast engineer who owned his own company. As part of his work, he was the manager of broadcast and telecommunication for the Willis Tower in Chicago, Ill. He loved understanding how everything worked and putting it all together. He loved being high above the city of Chicago in the middle of the night and seeing the lights. Everything about it was magic to him.

It's important to note that Jeremy refused to get vaccinated and declined to wear masks unless he had no choice. Jeremy and I were angry with each other about COVID, and while "Don't Answer Me" wasn't written about a brother/sister relationship, the lyrics seem especially poignant now because of our divide.

Jeremy and I used to talk about music all the time — it was one of our favorite things. Our whole lives, we would pass song lyrics back and forth to each other and see if the other one could guess the name of the song. We'd have long discussions about particular songs, bands, producers and albums, most of it was while he was driving around the country to various job sites. We used to text each other pictures of radio displays when a song came on that we knew the other one liked. Once, before we could easily search the internet, we had a sprawling, hours-long discussion about the religious meaning behind "The Boxer" by Simon & Garfunkel.

One day in 2018, we did this deep dive into the Alan Parsons Project. He had always loved the APP and listened to them when we were young in the '80s. I hadn't known that Alan Parsons engineered The Dark Side of the Moon (we're both big Floyd fans), and I excitedly texted Jeremy. It led us into this long conversation that made me appreciate both the band and Jeremy's deep musical knowledge. I miss these conversations terribly. He was my favorite person in the world.

photo of Dennis DeCarlo

Via Robert Texel

Dennis DeCarlo, 61

'No One Is Alone' from 'Into the Woods'

Dennis was the set designer for the spring musical at our high school, and I was the director. He was a beloved woodshop teacher, colleague and friend to many of us in the district. Dennis died less than two months into lockdown and the whole Pompton Lakes community in New Jersey was devastated. A year later, we staged a socially distanced, masked production of Into the Woods for the spring musical and dedicated it to him.

"No One Is Alone" is the penultimate song of the show, where the surviving characters reflect on how they have to carry on despite losing friends and family suddenly and tragically. I'm sure it meant something different for each member of the audience, but for the kids, my colleagues, and me, it was a song about Dennis, and how we needed to carry on in his absence.

photo of Carlos M. Herrera

Via Adriana Martinez

Carlos M. Herrera, 65

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's 'Over the Rainbow'

My uncle lived in Littlerock, Calif., and was originally from Santa Clarita, Calif., a true cowboy at heart. "Over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole was a song that brightened his spirit whenever he was feeling down.

He never failed to smile anytime he saw you, even if he wasn't feeling his best. He loved to cook his barbecue — he had a gift, which he passed on to his son, my cousin Albert. He had a great sense of humor and a caring heart. When my aunt was a little girl (he was married to her older sister), she was having a hard time learning how to tell time, and he was the one who taught her how to read the clock. My older brother is on the spectrum and has his quirks, but in the last couple of years they became best friends. I loved talking about politics with him: I'm a Bernie Sanders supporter and he respected my views even though he was a Republican. We were all so lucky to have him in our lives.

photo of Jaime Alejandro Espinosa-Anabalon

Courtesty of Jorge Espinosa

Jaime Alejandro Espinosa-Anabalon, 85

'Bridge Over Troubled Water'

My dad had a lot of hardships. He lost his father when he was, like, 5 or something, and from there things got really bad financially. So for him, the song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel kind of really resonated with him and his struggle through his life.

He was a mold-maker — molds for engine parts, or any other metal or even plastic parts. He got his training when he was living in Santiago, Chile, which is where he's from. He traveled throughout all of South America, so he never really stayed put. Hardships would always follow him in terms of being able to find work, being able to make a living, and he wasn't scared to get up and find something better.

Taking that kind of risk, going into something you don't know, is scary. But he could just as easily take that same thing and attach something really lovely and beautiful to it. It's like when you think about fruit: The fruit with all the bruises and the scars, they're the ones that have the most sugar and sweetness and taste the best. Which is actually, really, what he instilled in me.

photo of Eileen Moody-Lee

Via Carlita Lewis

Eileen Moody-Lee, 59

R.E.M.'s 'Losing My Religion'

My mom loved "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. She would always request it when our family ate at Pizza Hut. It always reminds us of her.

She was a long-hauler — she died 16 months after being infected. Her lungs were too scarred, and she never could breathe on her own again. Despite that being her song, she left this world with her loved ones around her and with the assurance that she would be with her Lord and savior very soon, and the rest of us would join her one day. We miss her every day.

photo of Anibal Gomez

Via Cristina Gomez

Anibal Gomez, 78

Edith Piaf's 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'

"[Non,] je ne regrette rien" by Edith Piaf was one of Anibal's favorite songs. It represented his philosophy on life: never regretting any of the choices that he made, even if those choices led to the end of his 30-year marriage and turbulence in his professional life. He lived the way he wanted to and that gives us great peace of mind.

The song reminds us of a philosophy on life that is different from ours, but still deserves to be honored.

photo of Paula Einbender

Rebecca Nole

Paula Einbender, 66

Joni Mitchell's 'The Circle Game'

My mom, Paula Einbender, loved musicals and singing folk music. From family gatherings to long car rides, singing (despite our talents) was a part of it.

Although my mother died from complications related to COVID-19, she had also suffered from Parkinson's for several years. I believe the social isolating dimension of the pandemic sped up her death. She was alone in her room for the last 84 days of her life, and her symptoms, like hallucinations, became more disruptive.

My sister, aunt and I started relying on daily video calls to stay connected to her. My kids and I would hold regular singalongs with her. We went through the folk songbook Rise Up Singing page by page, spending hours playing and singing songs that she used to know by heart.

By the time she started falling and was taken to the hospital for observation, she couldn't manage video call technology, but the amazing nursing staff helped us. We were able to hold "private concerts'' for her from our living room.

The songs she engaged in most were the ones that had been meaningful throughout her life. Singing through tears and laughter every day for hours surely helped us, but also helped my mom — who without visitors and social contact to anchor her slipped further away each day. I believe the music and seeing her grandchildren learn the songs she loved gave her some comfort and peace.

Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" is a song I remember Mom singing to me and my sister when we were little. Beautiful and haunting, it's always been a family favorite. She sang it for me on a cassette tape mix she made for me when I left for summer camp. I remember feeling it was such a mature and pretty song that revealed so much about life. I've sung the song to my children since they were babies, and my sister has done the same with her kids. We'll always think of mom when we hear it.

This last year, the lyrics have stood out in new ways for me. I've been able to watch and feel how, "The seasons they go round and round and painted ponies go up and down/ We're captive on a carousel of time / We can't return we can only look / Behind from where we've been / And go round and round and round on the circle game."

My mom was a great mom, and she loved being a grandma. Her love for music and singing will live on in her grandchildren, which would give her comfort to know.

photo of Eugene Hurkin

Ruth Adam

Eugene Hurkin, 95

Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood'

My father, Eugene Hurkin of Brooklyn, N.Y., died at the age of 95 from COVID-19.

Born in 1925, my dad loved big-band swing — the music of his youth. He was a joyous and social partygoer and never shy to find a partner with whom to dance the night away.

On the evenings when my father went to formal events (I remember the smell of shaving cream and Old Spice cologne permeating the house), he would put on his tuxedo, bow tie and shiny black shoes. To me, he looked tall, handsome and larger than life.

Before heading out, my dad would play Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," and we danced the Lindy in the living room. My older sister, who loves to dance, asked to be taught the steps and was promptly greeted by our father's outstretched hand. They swung, dipped, and danced around the room as the record played. Everyone laughed and cheered until the song ended, and my father put on his hat to leave.

Many decades later, my father developed dementia. During the last of his 95 years, he lost the ability to clearly communicate with our family. Nonetheless, we talked to him about his former passions in hopes that these topics would stimulate his brain and bring back my father for even just a moment. I reminded him that he ran track at New Utrecht High School, that he had been a successful lawyer and that he was a long-time Boy Scout camp master.

During those final years, I caught a PBS program that explained how people with Alzheimer's disease are more alert after hearing music from their youth. The next day I sat beside my father's bed as he ate Chips Ahoy cookies — his favorite — and we listened to "In the Mood." I noticed his foot begin to tap and his head start bopping to the swinging rhythm. I asked if he remembered the song, and he smiled as he nodded quietly. Though he could no longer retell the stories of his youth, I hope the music unlocked a place in his mind where he was as young as the nights when we danced the Lindy.

Though my father was a quiet man, he had a big personality, good nature and a love of humor. Now that he's gone, the house seems deflated without the many hallmarks of his presence. Just like my father, my foot starts tapping when I hear Miller's band begin to play. The song reminds me not to take life too seriously and that sometimes you need to get up and dance.

photo of Demetria Bannister

Via Rayechon McQueen

Demetria Bannister, 28

Kirk Franklin's 'The Storm Is Over Now'

Demetria was a teacher in Columbia, S.C., for elementary school students. And she was 28 years old.

We seem to have a lot of family members that actually sing and play, like, instruments and stuff. So, we'll just be sitting down or just playing instrumentals and just singing together. And that started off at a very young age. I can't remember how old I was, and Demetria, of course, was always older than me, but she always was singing and I started because of her.

Sometimes, we'd be in the car together, just making a song while we were riding. And Demetria was such a playful and funny person. And that was just with anybody she was encountering — it didn't matter if she knew you or not. She was just gonna be playful — that was just her.

Something that I'm really gonna truly miss is just playing and singing with her. Just being behind her, watching her take over. And when I say take over, I mean take over. I mean, she was such a star. She was really such a star.

I chose "The Storm Is Over Now" because a couple of years back, me and Demetria had went on Facebook Live and sung it together. And when we sung it, we sound so good. I guess it's the message, really. The song says, "No more cloudy days / They're all gone, gone away / I feel like I can make it / The storm is over now." And that was the part that she used to sing.

Even though what happened was sad, it was still beautiful how many lives she touched. And I will say that if you had run into her, you definitely gonna remember her. She left her mark — without her even trying. I promise you that.

photo of David Smith Sr.

David Smith Jr.

David Smith Sr., 70

Sam Cooke's 'Bring It on Home to Me'

My father loved Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me." In the song, Cooke sings to a woman who he's in love with. When I hear the song, I think of my father's deep love for my mother and his children.

My father was a master fisherman. He used to host fish fries and serve his catch to family and friends. I remember him, with a towel over his shoulder, calling for me to be his "taste tester." I can also remember him forgoing dinner so his guests could eat. Seeing his guests and family enjoy themselves was far more important to him. The dinners also gave him a platform to share his faith — stuffed faces don't talk back!

When I listen to "Bring It on Home to Me," I think of just how loving and warm my father was. No matter what happened, he would always welcome us home.

photo of Jim Haefele

Via Rebecca Lichtenfeld

Jim Haefele, 65

'The Irish Blessing'

My high school music teacher, Jim Haefele — or Haef — died of COVID-19 last year. When his former students from Half Hollow Hills High School East heard he was in the hospital, we decided to record ourselves singing "The Irish Blessing." Haef taught the song to nearly all his students over the years, and we thought it was the best gift we could give him.

One student — now a professional musician — sent out a music chart and asked students to record their part and email it back to her. It was assembled together, creating a choir of students singing one of his favorite songs in unison. We sent it to him, and the song was played to him before he passed away.

Haef changed my life. He made me feel seen. His lessons taught me to connect to music in ways that gave me confidence and happiness. Heaf believed in me, and as a result, I believed in myself. (He also left the music office window open, so I could climb through it and avoid being technically late to school.)

The world lost Haef too soon. But, his legacy will live on through his students and the music he taught us to appreciate.

photo of Jack Ranney

Via Jillian Knutson

Jack Ranney, 80

Edward Elgar's 'Nimrod'

My dad was a violinist and an orchestra conductor. My childhood was centered around music. I didn't grow up listening to popular songs on the radio; instead, at my house, we listened to recordings of classical symphonies. Some of my earliest and proudest memories are of watching my dad in his black tuxedo conduct a concert. Other cherished moments are when he played "Ava Maria" at church on Christmas Eve and "The Lord's Prayer" at my wedding.

In November, when my dad was on a ventilator, we decided to put together a recording of his favorite pieces for him to listen to. One after another, my family immediately chimed in with songs to contribute, each with memories attached: Holst's "The Planets," Respighi's "Pines of Rome," Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," Barber's "Adagio for Strings," etc. For me, it was Elgar's "Nimrod." Years earlier, my husband was just getting introduced to classical music and he asked my dad to suggest some pieces.

"Nimrod" was one and it instantly became one of our favorites. When my dad was hospitalized with COVID-19, friends and other family would ask what they could do to help - I asked them to listen to "Nimrod" and think about my dad. It is a beautiful, moving and emotional piece. I love it because it reminds me of a part of my dad that not everyone got to know or see. I will be forever grateful for the way in which my dad brought music into my life and how music will always be a source of connection to him.

photo of Usha Subrahmanyam

Via Uttara Marti

Usha Subrahmanyam, 69

Norah Jones' 'Don't Know Why'

My amma just adored Norah Jones' voice. Classically trained in bharatanatyam in her youth and a naturally gifted dancer in several styles, amma loved to sway to Norah Jones while preparing a delicious meal, enjoyed absorbing the notes and lyrics while lounging in a blanket, or even just feeling the comfort of the songs while digging into the newspaper or a good book. When amma was in the hospital, I studied her Spotify choices throughout each day with intensity, to determine if she was trying to wind down for the evening — Vishnu Sahasranamam — or just listen to something that, in her words, was "very soothing" during the day, like Norah Jones. I believe she connected more personally to the fact that Norah has a tie to India through her father and, perhaps just as importantly, spent a good amount of her life in the East Village just like my mother had.

It is very unlike me to fill out a form like this and share something about my family, so bear with me. When amma was in the hospital, I sent her links to several podcasts and albums through our WhatsApp chat to listen to, most of which she didn't get to. She kept coming back to Norah Jones over and over again. I found this so incredibly reassuring to spy her listening to something that I thoroughly enjoy, too. I began listening to it on my phone at the same time so that I could feel like we were in the living room consuming it together.

Writing this, it just occurred to me that since amma passed in January, I haven't really been listening to music much. When I am in the kitchen preparing dinner in a few minutes for my father shortly, I will put on her Come Away With Me album. Amma and I often discussed going to a Norah Jones show as part of our checklist of to-do's post-COVID. I need to make sure to do so.

photo of Susan Owens

Via the Owens family

Susan Owens, 63

Bruce Springsteen's 'The Rising'

Susan, my late mother-in-law, was the ultimate Jersey girl. My husband grew up with Bruce on the radio, in the car, constantly. We all went to concerts together and the Broadway show. It was the soundtrack of her life. One of her favorites was "The Rising" because she herself had risen up through so many challenges, including her divorce, her brother's car accident and the many challenges life threw her way. And yet she always stayed so positive until the last breaths of her six-week COVID ordeal, including the loss of her own mother to COVID.

I'm reminded of being at MetLife Stadium with my husband, Kyle, his sister, Stefanie, and their mom, dancing arm in arm to Bruce Springsteen. I stood behind them to snap a picture of them three of them belting out the lyrics, rapturously, so connected. And now, with their mother gone, all we have left are the memories ... and the words. "Come on up for the risin'."

photo of Sam Corpora

Via the Corpora family

Sam Corpora, 72

Merle Haggard's 'Silver Wings'

My dad and I went to more than 50 Merle concerts together, and we used this song ["Silver Wings"] as the daddy-daughter dance at my wedding. The title is tattooed on my foot. My dad was a crop duster, and this song is about an airplane taking away the person he loved.

This song is everything to me. It will always be me and my daddy's song. My friend even gave me a necklace with a silver wing on it after he died, so I can always have him close to my heart.

photo of Jason Holland

Via Jamie Bowers

Jason Holland, 47

Maroon 5's 'Memories'

We never really talked about his favorite song, but I lost my best friend in July 2020 to post-COVID sepsis. He developed sepsis after contracting and recovering from COVID-19; it ravaged his immune system and while he recovered, he went into sepsis shock and didn't make it. The song that I heard shortly after his passing, Maroon 5's Memories" helped me through it.

The song helped me deal with his loss. We lived in different states, him Ohio and me Virginia, so we communicated mostly through Facebook. The song takes on extra meaning for me when I use Facebook's memories feature and see old comments on my posts that remind me of our friendship. Those days, a sadness still comes over me thinking about it. I miss him dearly. We had a friendship that was full of jokes and laughter and it may be some time before I find a friend that is as quick witted and funny as hell as he was.

photo of James L. Tomasik

Via the Tomasik family

James L. Tomasik, 58

Johnny Cash's 'Sunday Morning, Coming Down'

Dad was a morning person and liked to have YouTube on in the mornings for music while he was relaxing, cooking breakfast, waking everyone else up by being noisy, etc.

The song makes me think of my dad frying eggs and bacon for breakfast. I used to complain that he listened to the same 10 to 20 songs over and over, but I'd give anything for another morning of him waking me and the others up with his usual playlist and the smell of food in the air.

photo of Hung Vinh Nguyen

Annie Nguyen-Habermann

Hung Vinh Nguyen, 77

Natalie And Nat King Cole's 'Unforgettable'

"Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole was my dad's way of connecting with me.

After my parents split up, my dad gave me a CD with the song for my birthday (even though I had asked for MC Hammer's 2 Legit 2 Quit). It was his way of showing me what I meant to him. The song brought us together, even when my dad couldn't be around to watch me grow up.

In 2009, we danced to it at my wedding.

The song took on even more meaning last summer when my dad lost his life to COVID-19. As the president of the Sai Gon Gia Dinh Association in the Washington, D.C., metro area, he had spent the last few months of his life raising funds to donate face masks and shields to the local community, including senior citizens, nursing homes, and the Fairfax, Va., Sheriff's department — one more "unforgettable" act.

I played the song for my dad following his eulogy.

photo of Janet Kilty

Via Tim Erdmann

Janet Kilty, 74

John Denver's 'Grandma's Feather Bed'

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.

photo of Tom Makosky

Via Stephanie Veto

Tom Makosky, 66

The Turtles' 'Happy Together'

My dad was a great lover of music. He played in bands for most of his youth, and he's the reason I have a deep love of music and playing instruments. We were always really close, but my daughter and he had the most special bond. From the time she could walk, they'd be in his garage listening to everything from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to Steppenwolf.

But, one song and band were exceptionally special to them — "Happy Together" by The Turtles. They played and danced to that song on repeat for years.

The line, "Me and you, and you and me," sums up their relationship. It's the perfect portrait of how they were together — inseparable and happy. When they were together, skies were bluer and he was happier. He instantly turned into a kid around her, and he was miserable if he went more than a week without seeing "his baby."

When I hear "Happy Together," I'm reminded of a time when my daughter was about 2. She wanted to run in the rain, but no one else did — except my dad. When he said "yes," they began running in and out of the garage laughing and drenched without a care in the world.

I miss my dad terribly and I don't think I'll ever get over the trauma of losing him to COVID-19. However, the thing that hurts the most is the special bond my daughter lost.

photo of Suresh Agrawal

Via Vinita Agrawal

Suresh Agrawal, 66

Kishore Kumar And Lata Mangeshkar, 'Tere Bina Zindagi Se'

My dad loved old-school Indian songs. It reminded him of his life and home in India. Songs by Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, such as "Tere Bina Zindagi Se," were his favorites. Listening to these songs brought him peace and gave him nostalgia.

When I think of a song like "Tere Bina Zindagi Se," it brings me back to sitting in the car with my dad. He loved listening to his Indian favorites in the car. My dad would sing along and he had a beautiful voice (not many knew this). Another favorite of my dad was "Rang Barse," which is a celebratory song. Anytime there was a family wedding and this song came on, the dance floor would clear and my dad would be in the middle with a huge smile and his signature uncle dance moves. My dad was thoughtful, gentle, kind, and so joyful. These songs remind me of that.

photo of Daniel Pazmino

Via Yanira Camino

Daniel Pazmino, 53

Marta Sanchez's 'Desesperada'

My funny, cool, dimple-faced uncle was the kindest man you'd ever meet. He can talk for hours about the New York Mets, movies, Ecuador, tattoos, and his precious Jeep. When I was planning to get my first car, he tried so hard to get me onboard and join the Jeep world. I ended up going for a Ford Escape, and I never heard the end of it. Just shows you how much of a passionate man he was. More than loving his Jeep, he adored his golden retriever named Goliath (appropriate), his two beautiful daughters, and stunning wife. Like Kobe, he was a Girl-dad. Tio Daniel was the man who taught me how to drive a stick and never lost patience when I didn't get the hang of it (I still don't know how).

My 53-year-old uncle was a fan of Marta Sanchez who is a Spanish singer, and this is one of her more popular songs. This song, in particular, brings me a little closer to him, with its poetic lyrics behind its upbeat tune. Marta sings "I walk in the sun, but it's winter in my heart / That's why I'm desperate / Because our love / Is an emerald that a thief stole." That's how anyone who's ever met him feels, as if a piece of our heart was stolen that we will never get back. He was one of kind, my dear Tio Daniel.

photo of Paul Kleinheider

Via Deborah Kalish

Paul Kleinheider, 74

Simon And Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'

Paul loved Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Paul's childhood was challenging. He put himself through college by waiting tables on the weekends. He was drafted during the Vietnam War and took part in officer candidate school, where he pushed through very difficult training to realize his best self. He left the army with strength and confidence and became a successful businessman. He never forgot "from whence he came" and wanted to leave the world a better place than when he entered. Paul believed education should be available to all children and did much to provide assistance to children in need. I think Paul considered education the bridge to all that was possible.

I loved Simon and Garfunkel and was fortunate enough to have seen them at Symphony Hall in Boston when I was in college. I have a distinct memory of them singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" — and can visualize it as if it were yesterday. Not too long ago, Garfunkel was performing in Princeton, and Paul and I went to see him. He was more or less in his "poetry stage" and we decided it was best to remember him for his music. When Paul became ill and was hospitalized, I was able to Zoom into his room. Although he was unable to speak, or even to respond, I played "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with the hope that he would enjoy it. When I listen to it now, it's somewhat bittersweet.

photo of Elizabeth Wells

Via Alison Wells

Elizabeth Wells, 62

John Denver's 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'

My sister loved John Denver, and her favorite song was "Country Roads." As a child, Elizabeth wanted to meet him. At the time, the concept of distance had no meaning to her, and she was a master escape artist! On one occasion, she made it several blocks before a family friend found her in her pajamas, no shoes, on her way to meet her friend — John Denver. Hearing the song always makes me think of Elizabeth and her big love. She loved with her whole heart.

photo of Robert L'Hussier

Via the L'Hussier family

Robert L'Hussier, 88

Louis Armstrong's 'What A Wonderful World'

The song "What a Wonderful World" helped my dad persevere through challenges. My mom died when I was very young. Her death left my dad a young single father raising two young children in 1969. The song made him happy. And, it showed us there are many places in the world where we could still find joy.

The song is also part of my favorite memory of my dad. I was on a return trip to Massachusetts. Just as I was about to leave, my father and I turned on the song. We sang and danced around the living room before I left.

One day, we'll hold a beautiful celebration of life for my dad. I plan to honor him by playing the song.

photo of Lewis Kirsch

Via Ira Gottlieb

Lewis Kirsch, 57

Grateful Dead's 'Morning Dew'

Lew was a passionate listener and lifelong friend and fan of the Grateful Dead. Their song "Morning Dew" particularly touched him. The very name of the band reminded Lew that we're all sort of living on borrowed and finite time. To Lew, "Morning Dew'' drove home the abiding message that life is fragile, and in the end, small petty things don't really matter. He was inspired by that message to embrace life and to feel good about what he was doing — teaching kids in the South Bronx, loving his family and special needs children, enjoying quiet moments and not getting hung up on little things that drive wedges between people.

Lew had a big soul. "Morning Dew" reflects that gentleness. Sometimes it would make him smile; sometimes it would make him sad. But, it always made him feel good.

In the end, when he was alone in the hospital, on a respirator and without family or friends at his physical side, we asked the medical team to play "Morning Dew" for Lew as they disconnected him from life support. It allowed us to be there, musically, with him and "Walk him out in the morning dew today."

The song reminds me that life is uncertain. That sometimes monumental things matter, but so do very small things, such as random or unspoken acts of kindness. And, on a practical level, the song reminds me of my days with Lew, journeying all over the country to see our favorite band and how we joined the celebration of life with the Grateful Dead.

photo of John Prine


John Prine, 73

'I Remember Everything'

I don't believe anyone could choose his favorite song; everything he wrote was a labor of love. The final gift he gave us was "I Remember Everything," which turned out to be maybe his most prophetic. His music inspired millions of fans worldwide and leaves his family with a lasting legacy.

The song title says it all: "I Remember Everything." It evokes so much emotion and so many memories, they're truly hard to separate. My best memory of John is the last conversation we had — about six weeks before we lost him. It ended the way every one of our conversations ended: "Love you, Cuz!"

photo of Willie Louise Richardson

Via Adrianna Beau/YouTube

Willie Louise Richardson

Richard Smallwood's 'Total Praise'

My mother passed away from COVID-19 on Feb. 12, 2021, and she loved gospel music. One of her favorite worship songs was "Total Praise" by Richard Smallwood because of the lyrics and the musicality. My mother was a piano teacher, a singer, a songwriter and a true worshiper. She loved the Lord and introduced gospel music to so many. It has only been a little over two weeks and I miss her dearly, but when I hear "Total Praise," it comforts me.

"Total Praise" reminds me of my mom teaching my sister and I how to harmonize. My mom was a woman of excellence and when I couldn't recall a note (she taught me how to sing at the age of 2) and she would sternly but lovingly play the note on the piano until I got it right!

photo of Kris Ann Tamez

Via Yvette Slagle

Kris Ann Tamez, 47

Janis Joplin's 'Me And Bobby McGee'

My incredible cousin passed away Feb. 4 after a week-long battle in the ICU, a true rollercoaster of emotions for our family. When I received the text message from my cousin (Kris Ann's younger sister) that "we have gained a guardian angel ... " I quietly walked upstairs, lit a candle, and cried. There has been so much sadness and pain this year for so many people, it's hard to fathom. As I cried, I wrote Kris Ann a letter ... saying goodbye and thanking her for all the light and love she brought to this world. I wrote down my favorite memories of her, many of which involved music and dancing.

Afterward, I sang the best rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee" I could muster through my tears. Of all the songs, that's what came to mind. Kris Ann loved that song and always requested I sing it at the top of my lungs ... we would laugh together and try to sing together the ending lines where Janis really wails... "Lord, I called him my lover / I called him my man / I said I called him my lover / Did the best I can" ... and end up laughing so hard we couldn't finish the song. This song brought her joy and laughter!

I recognize we are all trying to cope with loss and heartbreak in our own way. The times when we would normally gather with friends and family to grieve together and celebrate life together aren't really possible, so we find ways to honor our lost loved ones in different ways. Singing a song to Kris Ann and listening to her favorite music is my way of healing and celebrating her life. I realize that Kris Ann will always be with us and every time I hear a song that reminds me of her, I'll smile.

photo of Nick Mourouzis

Via Pam Mourouzis

Nick Mourouzis, 83

Survivor's 'Eye Of The Tiger'

My dad was a college football coach, and he spent the last 23 years of his professional career (1981-2003) at DePauw University, home of the Tigers. His big personality and even bigger heart made him a legend on campus and beyond, and he remained a wildly popular figure there until he died. The song I will always associate with him, as cheesy as it is, is Survivor's 1982 hit "Eye of the Tiger." It has been played at pretty much every DePauw football game since that year, and it fired him up like no other. It helped that this song talks about "rising up to the challenge of our rival." DePauw has a longstanding rivalry with nearby Wabash College, and their annual meetup draws legions of fans cheering on their respective teams to bring home the Monon Bell, the game's 300-pound trophy.

The photo I've included shows Nick at his last Monon Bell game, in November 2019. As you can see, he carried his Tiger Pride with him to the end. It seems fitting somehow that there was no game without him this year. Nick died in a nursing care facility at about 10 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2020. We thought he had defeated COVID-19, but his heart slowed and finally stopped that night, about two and a half weeks after his diagnosis. My brother Ted, who lives nearby, drove the hour to Greencastle to pick up my mother so that she could say goodbye. Naturally, on their way home in the wee hours of the morning, "Eye of the Tiger" played on the radio.

Being a coach's kid is a magical experience. It's one thing to be a loyal fan of a team, but when it's the center of your family's life, it's another thing entirely. Football Saturdays, from the sun-soaked ones in early September to the frigid and sometimes snowy ones in late November, are at the center of many of the best memories of my life. And "Eye of the Tiger" is the soundtrack to almost every one of those memories, since I was only 9 when my dad started work at DePauw. I will always think of him when I hear it, first with tears, then with a smile at some recollection of him jumping in the air with joy after a touchdown that led to victory, or breaking down the game stats in the living room after a crushing defeat. Sadly, COVID-19 was a battle he could not win.

photo of Adelia Enriquez

Via the Enriquez family

Adelia Enriquez, 68

Paul Anka's 'Diana'

My mama loved to dance and hum to tunes, and one song that was really special to my mama and papa was Paul Anka's "Diana." When my papa would sing this to mama, he would replace the lyric "Diana" with "Adelia" without fail. He would serenade her with this whenever we did karaoke or, for instance, when we had a huge party to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. It would make my mama laugh, but she loved it just the same. When I think about this, I have this image of her looking up and smiling at my dad belting out this song.

This last Christmas, I decided to learn how to play the ukulele, and for their 42nd wedding anniversary (Dec. 30), the week before my mama died, my husband and I went to surprise her and papa by (socially distant) serenading them. At first it was on their balcony, then when they came down to the front of their house we sang a few songs together including "Diana"/"Adelia," even if I could barely reach the high notes. She happened to tell us then that her and papa "had a cold," so I said I felt bad that they had to come down for us. She said "oh not at all, I love surprises!" This was the last time I saw my mama. I had no idea what a gift it was to do this and to sing her that song one last time.

photo of Mark Arnold

Via Kim Hickey

Mark Arnold, 53

Steven Curtis Chapman's 'Til the Blue'

In the last weeks in his life, the song "Til the Blue" by Steven Curtis Chapman with Gary LeVox took took on a special meaning for me and my fiancé, Mark.

Mark was comforted by the song's message — that family and friends can support each other in times of loss, even when we have no words to take the pain away, by simply being there to listen and cry together in grief.

I feel the same way. Mark was on a ventilator for 30 days. After his quarantine period, I was able to visit him in the hospital. I cherished the hours I spent with him, praying, playing music, and holding his hand before he passed from this life into the next. "Til the Blue" will always remind me of those precious hours.

photo of Robert Usher

Via Cynthia Deere

Robert Usher, 48

Prince's 'Purple Rain'

Robert loved music and dancing. Whenever we heard a local band play "Purple Rain" or heard it on at a club, he would grab my hand and lead me to the dance floor. Every time I listen to it, I remember the fun times dancing with him.

He worked in our local emergency department and was just beginning his last semester of nursing school. At work, he would have one earbud in and would sing and dance in the hallways.

Robert was such a happy, positive, fun, bright light in our community. The mayor of our city, Fayetteville, N.C., has even proclaimed Feb. 12, the date he passed, Robert Usher Day.

photo of David Belanger

The Belanger family

David Belanger, 71

Barbra Streisand's 'Songbird'

My dad was a huge music lover. You could usually find him tinkering in his garage singing along to his favorite tunes. If he was in his truck, the music was on loud. I'm sure the neighbors loved that, as he cruised along occasionally honking his old-timey truck horn.

Of all the music my dad adored, Barbra Streisand was one of the main pillars of his cherished musical community. When I was a young girl, we changed the lyrics to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" to "You Don't Take Showers" — and never sang it the original way again.

And of all the Barbra songs he loved, his most favorite was "Songbird." He often complimented the artistry of the song. How flawlessly she sang it. How beautiful the melody was. But I always sensed there was more there. My heart breaks that I'll never be able to ask him.

Dad and I enjoyed our "patio party times." We would sit on the back patio with a pup in each lap literally screaming at Alexa to play various songs, or sometimes I'd DJ on Spotify. Cocktails in hands and music running the gamut from Beach Boys to Chris Stapleton to Bee Gees to Spice Girls — my dad did a mean "Wannabe" — to ... well, you get the idea.

One constant in these fabulous and sometimes very late-night father-daughter nights was the final song. He had to hear it before we wrapped it up to head on inside. "OK, OK, one more ... just one more ... and you know what it is." He would say with a gleam in his eye.

And I'd play him "Songbird" and this big 6'4" San Diego surfer electrician, with fingers the size of bratwurst, would slip into the comforting trance that only your favorite song can bring you.

photo of Margaret Messner

Via Kristy Kutz

Margaret Messner, 89

Teresa Brewer's 'Music, Music, Music'

The song "Music, Music, Music," as sung by Teresa Brewer, was released in late 1949 and topped the charts in 1950 when my mom, Margaret, was 19 turning 20. During the last few years of her life, she and I listened to it as we walked, visited, or just sat and enjoyed the view at her nursing home. She often recalled and laughed at her incredulity as a young woman at the racy parts ("I'd do anything for you, anything you'd want me to ... ") of which she couldn't believe would be lyrics in a song, let alone a top hit. She'd also describe the long ago scene when she and her contemporaries were at the local Soda Fountain on a Saturday night. She told of being dressed up with her girlfriends and wishing to dance a bit with the handsome Jimmy Messner, my dad. They'd all be hopeful that someone would have another nickel to put in the nickelodeon, or jukebox, so they could keep dancing, which is the main theme and chorus of the song. Being that a seat at the movies was 11 cents, a 5 cent song was appreciated by the whole crowd. This song encapsulated her youth in a unique way that allowed her to remember that brief period of her life throughout her remaining 70 years.

In her later years my mom developed dementia. Some days were harder than others, and on the hard days when nothing clicked, I could see she was still there with help from this song. On days when she didn't recognize anyone and my conversation attempts fell flat, we were able to still connect through this song. Once I played "Music, Music, Music," she would perk up as she sang along, tapping her leg to the beat. She and I were born with the worst singing voices ever, and she taught me from a young age to basically lip-sync in public in order to hide it as she herself did. However with dementia, she fortunately forgot what bad voices we had, so we were both free to sing out loud — and loudly at that — along with Teresa Brewer during my twice-weekly visits to her nursing home. Once she tired of it and asked me, "Do you think they'll ever change this song?"

For me, the song was a window to her former life that I could only imagine. It unlocked the young Margaret I never knew who had a crush on the handsome Jimmy Messner.

As COVID-19 took hold of Margaret and her condition deteriorated, we had a few FaceTime calls with her since she was in isolation. Eventually, she responded to little of what my family and I said, which was heartbreaking. During one of the last calls, my daughter, who has a beautiful singing voice, sang this song to her a cappella. For a brief moment, Margaret lit up and smiled. I could see she was still there.

photo of Edward Byrne

Via the Byrne family

Edward Byrne, 90

'Over There'

My father liked a variety of music: big band era, symphonic and Beatles music to name a few. A song that resonated with him was a patriotic song from the first World War, "Over There." He would get quietly introspective when it played. He was a Korean War-era veteran, and is buried in Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, N.Y. He died of the COVID-19 virus last March 28 in Carmel Richmond Nursing Home in Staten Island. When this song played in old-time movies on television while my dad and I watched TV together, I noticed he was emotionally uplifted, inspired and touched by the words. This song embodies the notion of America's national effort of coming to the rescue of the underdog, or fighting for what's right in the world. I believe that ethic was important and close to my dad's heart.

As a child I would stand up from sitting on the couch when this song played in a patriotic movie, and I would salute, raising my right hand to my forehead imitating a soldier and march in place, then all around our living room — with my dad watching me and smiling.

All because I knew my dad was emotionally connected with the song. He was a corporal in the army during the Korean War conflict. On the very last day that I was allowed to visit my father in the nursing home last March, I tried to make it the best visit possible, as I knew it was the last time I'd be seeing him for quite some time. Little did I know he would pass away without me being able to visit him there, 17 days later.

I had my iPhone play music during my visits to my dad. I asked him what song he would like to hear, and he suggested, "Over There." He listened to it quietly. We both did, he in the recliner chair next to his hospital bed and me sitting on the end of his bed. Then he quietly said, "thank you," when the song finished. And that memory will be with me as long as I have the ability to conjure up all of life's memories.

This song about liberation and sacrifice, helping with a higher cause and world peace was the very last music my 90-year-old father and I shared on this planet before he died, before he was "liberated" from the nursing home and a life that had become very difficult physically, mentally and emotionally. Music was still able to uplift and inspire him until the very end. And that's what this song means to me.

photo of Rita Levay

Via Jessica Johnson

Rita Levay, 76

Journey, 'Lights'

My aunt Rita (my other mom) absolutely loved Steve Perry and Journey. She and her husband of 45 years (married just three weeks after meeting) would slow dance in the kitchen to Journey. She loved all of Journey's music, but "Lights" held a special place in her heart because of the fact they met in Northern California. She especially connected to the love story of Steve Perry and his girlfriend, Kellie Nash. Rita and Jim had a great love affair, and after his passing three years ago, my aunt would tell me stories about Steve Perry and how much his music meant to her and the memories she made with Jim.

I moved from San Francisco to New York after Jim's passing to be close to my aunt. So, naturally, being from San Francisco and a huge Giants fan, Journey had a huge piece of my heart as well. My aunt telling me stories of her and Jim dancing every night to Journey just made my heart swell with more nostalgia. She was a badass, a fighter. She was not 76 ... more like 26! After three weeks in the COVID-19 ICU, I was able to see her. I was in full PPE and all I wanted to do was kiss and hug her. That was not an option, so I held her hand, I played "Lights" for her and told her to go dance with Jim. I know she heard me even though she could not respond. She joined her loving husband, Jim, the next morning.

photo of Joseph Karszen

Via Daniel Hunt

Joseph Karszen, 91

'The Impossible Dream' From 'Man Of La Mancha'

My grandpa was a big fan of Broadway showtunes. He used to play them on the radio every Sunday when I was a kid and he would talk about going into the city with my grandma to see all these musicals, but Man of La Mancha was among his favorites. When we got an Amazon Echo, that's what he would ask it to play, over and over again.

My grandpa was a first-generation American, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. His mother died when he was a teenager, and he began losing his vision when he was about 12 years old. He had stories about the Great Depression that painted a pretty bleak portrait of his early years. But despite all the hardship, he liked to say keeping a positive outlook helped him get through it all. Part of that was that almost daily ritual of listening to "The Impossible Dream."

I think "The Impossible Dream" represented the way he saw life. It was his anthem. Stay positive, no matter what. Don't give up when the going gets tough. And dare to dream big. My grandpa preferred the original cast recording which featured Richard Kiley as Don Quixote; he sang in a powerful baritone that is unmatched in other versions. He brings a force to the character that grabs your attention, but his voice is capable of being gentle and sweet. It's overwhelming the way he sings about all the trials and ordeals he would gladly face in pursuit of his impossible dream. He would march into Hell and back and die happy knowing he gave everything he had in him to achieve his goal. For someone who experienced his fair share of adversity, "The Impossible Dream" was one of my grandpa's sources of optimism.

It's hard to not think about my grandpa's final moments when I hear "The Impossible Dream" now. My family took care of my grandpa prior to the pandemic, but we were working around the clock when he got sick right when the pandemic first swelled in March. We took him to the hospital, but they had no room for him and we had to take him back home. He asked if we could stop off for an ice cream on the way back. We slept in shifts, washed him, gave him medicine, massaged his legs when he was too weak to move, and fed him what we could to keep his strength up. He said the protein shakes tasted like a Frostee from Wendy's. For about five days we were prepared for the end, but my grandpa somehow stayed positive and tried reassuring us in gasping breaths that he was feeling much better. When he finally stopped breathing, I was surprised by how peaceful things were. It was a sunny day outside and I felt OK letting my grandpa go.

Then my mom put on "The Impossible Dream." And I just broke down. As the song played, I imagined him being able to see again. Seeing his mom and his dad and my grandma after so long and riding away while this song played.

I hear that song now and it sounds like a goodbye. Not in the unpleasant sense that this is the end, but as a thanks for all the good times. It's a victory theme to a life well-lived. I'll never be able to separate this song from my grandfather's final moments, but at the same time it makes me think of all the other times I was able to spend with him. The final verse of the song really stands out to me now. I can still hear him singing along to it. "The world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star."

photo of Carolyn Jane Reibold

Via Julia Hessler

Carolyn Jane Reibold, 86

Tony Bennett's 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco'

The song is "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" by Tony Bennett. My mother loved him and had most of his albums. I had a hard time picking just one of his songs. She thought his voice was the best in the industry. She was loving and romantic and his songs seemed to reach her, whether she was sunny or blue.Through the years, he regained popularity and this tickled her. This particular song was played often and she would be belting it out with him, nodding along contently.

When I hear this song I still think of my mother first, but I'm also reminded of my childhood with my parents and my four siblings. We spent our early years in a humble three-bedroom, one-bath home. I can remember one summer staycation, my mother spinning her Victrola with a recent Tony Bennett album. It seemed to calm us all down. In later years, when she was in memory care, when I visited, I would take her to a sunny spot and play his music on Spotify. She may have forgotten our names and certain personal biographical information, but she remembered every word to his songs. We had planned to play his music at her funeral reception, but sadly COVID-19 restrictions prevented it. I will always be reminded of my mother when I hear Mr. Bennett, and so will my siblings. Always.

photo of Maria Angelica Mares

Via the Mares family

Maria Angelica Mares, 61

Johnny Cash's 'I Walk The Line'

My mother liked Mexican country-style songs, from the likes of Dueto America, Antonio Aguilar, Jorge Negrete, Juan Gabriel, Johnny Cash and other similar artists. When my mother was alive, she would listen to this style of music when in the car and on the porch listening. She would sing out loud and I will always remember the smile and happiness she had. She was a happy and joyful human being. My mom would sing and would be smiling. She was someone who liked to have company around and her face would just glow in the presence of others. She was a happy person.

The music that my mother listened to had meaning, heart and soul. It reminds me of the good times that we had together. Spending time together at different places, such as at the park, mountain, the beach and restaurants. For example, the song "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash would remind me of my mother because in the lyrics, "I find myself alone when each day is through / As sure as night is dark and day is light / I keep you on my mind both day and night / And happiness I've known proves that it's right." My mother has and will always be important to me. I will miss her deeply.

photo of Rita Sekirka

Via Andrew Crivilare

Rita Sekirka, 89

Judy Garland's 'Easter Parade'

In the last decade of her life, my Grandma Rita really loved "Easter Parade" by Irving Berlin. She had dementia and struggled with the basic functions so many of us take for granted. However, if someone put on Judy Garland's "Easter Parade," she would sing ever word. She just seemed so confident singing that song in a way she wasn't in the other parts of her life.

I think about the last time we sang it together. At this point, she was in the nursing home. I'm sure the other residents weren't thrilled at us belting out "Easter Parade." I would play that movie non-stop for my grandma, and she was always so filled with joy. She was such a movie person, so the photo I included was from the last time we went to see a movie together in theaters (La La Land, 2016).

photo of Michael Sowers

Via the Sowers family

Michael Sowers, 70

Harry Chapin's 'Cat's In The Cradle'

My dad, Mike, was so proud to play and sing Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" to me as a young child. I'm quite certain the lyrics were powerful to him, as he had moved away from his dad.

Since my dad played guitar, I had to be different and play drums. However, in high school I picked up guitar, and that was the first song he taught me. Over the years, I watched the song's lyrics play out in our own relationship. After his passing in November, I relearned the song, and now proudly play and sing it to my 10-year-old son.

photo of Drema Ellen Slack

Via Marissa Yingling

Drema Ellen Slack, 85

John Denver's 'Sunshine On My Shoulders'

Since she fell in love with it in the 1970s, John Denver's "Sunshine On My Shoulders" was one of a handful of cheerful, heartfelt songs Gran constantly sang to loved ones. The '70s were an especially tumultuous period for her; one of significant loss that had a profound impact on her life. This song was a gift. Though she never said it, I believe the lyrics reminded her to appreciate life's small joys. She chose to be grateful for something as simple as the sunshine "on my shoulders" or "in my eyes" or "on the water," and she invited the people she loved to do the same. For her, I believe the sunshine of which Denver sings is a metaphor for the small joys she cherished: reading books to her granddaughters, skiing with her son, dancing with her husband, sharing a meal with friends. For the rest of her life, she listened to John Denver. A coal miner's daughter born and raised "up Cabin Creek," she also treasured Denver's song about her beloved West Virginia, where she experienced her many sunshines.

Gran sang this song to me on numerous occasions: while planting flowers in the spring; eating Ellen's ice cream on Capitol Street; riding bikes on a Saturday afternoon. Beyond nostalgia, when I hear this song, I can picture the hours and days we shared, and I feel close to her. Also, simply the word "sunshine" makes me think of her. As I wrote in her obituary: "Our grandmother was sunshine. If you had the pleasure of knowing her, you know that she was a vibrant, generous woman full of life, smiles, and unconditional love. A humble person who wisely valued the 'precious present.'" Regardless of life's trials, she seized every opportunity for happiness, constantly whistling and singing her favorite songs. Perhaps you heard her sing, "Have I told you lately that I love you?" ... "You are my sunshine" ... "Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy" ... "The sun will come out tomorrow." Now, the song makes me think of the gift of being by her side during her final week, when we had not been permitted to touch for nearly one year because of the pandemic. The first evening we spent with her, she asked to listen to music. When we played Denver's song, she swayed her hand to the melody and joyfully sang the words "makes me happy." Despite feeling badly, she knew little time remained and she chose to enjoy it. She repeatedly told us "I'm so lucky," "I'm so fortunate," and "I couldn't have been happier in my life." When I hear "Sunshine On My Shoulders" or sing it to the great-granddaughter she could not meet because of COVID-19, I think of my Gran and smile, for she was my sunshine with whom I shared countless small joys, and I am grateful we had each one of them.

photo of Jimmy Glass

Via Catherine Glass

Jimmy Glass, 60

Jackie Wilson's 'Because Of You'

My dad loved anything Northern Soul. He grew up in England in the 1960s and '70s, when Northern Soul music was popular. He had a hard childhood, growing up in foster care and on the streets. I believe this music helped him through hard times in his life. At age 57, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and he listened to his music during many hours of chemotherapy. When he was suffering with COVID-19, he also turned to his music. The music made him happy and made him want to dance. One of the songs I know he loved was "Because Of You" by Jackie Wilson. He never told me why he liked it, but after listening to the words of the song, I believe it's for my mother, who saved him. But my mom insists they saved each other.

The song "Because Of You" by Jackie Wilson reminds of the time my dad and I were sitting in his living room after he was diagnosed with cancer and he told me this was his favorite song. I wrote it down in my notes section of my phone because I knew it would be important to remember. We ended up playing it at his memorial service. It also reminds me of how my mom and dad met, my dad was only 21, young, and trying to find his way in life; my mom was 32, divorced and also trying to find her way. They helped each other find their way in life over 40 years.

photo of Frank Nguyen

The Nguyen family

Frank Nguyen, 40

Depeche Mode's 'Home'

Frank traveled all over the U.S. and the world to attend concerts and to also experience other cultures. He turned 40 in June. He was supposed to go to Japan in 2020 with his friends for his next global adventure. They settled for Texas instead. A couple of weeks after they got back, he got sick, and that is where his story ended, sadly. He leaves behind his wife, his young son, a big family, countless friends and touched souls. There are too many shattered hearts to count.

A few days after he died, Depeche Mode's "Home" came up on my playlist randomly, and all I could do was sob and think that he was telling me and my family something. The chorus repeats: "And I thank you / For bringing me here / For showing me home / For singing these tears / Finally I've found / That I belong here." Thank you for giving me a space to write about an incredible human and share just one little detail of his wonderful life. His [obituary and guest book] can be found here: Frank Duc Tam Nguyen.

photo of Jeff Kopet

Via the Kopet family

Jeff Kopet, 74

Dire Straits' 'Brothers In Arms'

My father was a relatively reserved man, but he would let certain songs get to him. One of those songs was "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits. We never talked about what it meant to him personally, but he was one of the kindest people I've ever known. I know he had immense respect for veterans, but I also know that the bigger themes in the song — the sense of finality, pain, sadness, and the fact that all of the "brothers" are in fact humans with dreams, hopes, and wishes — I know that was part of what he loved so much in the song. My mom said it was one of the songs where my dad would shed a single tear after hearing it — although he might deny it later on.

I grew up listening to Dire Straits with my mom and dad, so any time I hear any of their popular tracks, I get jolted back to the early '90s and my toddlerhood and early childhood. I think of running down the hallway to hug my dad after he got home from work, I think of times spent playing on the carpeted living room floor on weekends with my mom and dad, and I think of the smell of holiday goodies baking in the adjacent kitchen because my parents listened to their favorite albums constantly — no specific season required. Now, the song "Brothers in Arms" makes me think of my dad's years spent battling cancer. It makes me think of the way my dad defied the odds, worked hard to get better despite being incredibly ill, and the fact that he had an army of excellent healthcare providers, friends, and family members behind him. In the end, he was so extremely tired and COVID-19 took him from us, but he fought so hard in this "war." I miss him so much, and honestly — the song just encapsulates my sadness, my love, and my awe at his strength.

photo of Nina Gloria

Via Margaret Garza

Nina Gloria, 69

Question Mark And The Mysterians, '96 Tears'

Nina was my big sister. When we were growing up, our mother (a single parent to seven kids) always worked two jobs, so it fell to Nina, the oldest, to take care of us. Because of Nina, pop music was an integral part of our home, and growing up with the music of the '60s was an added benefit. One of her favorite songs during the '60s was "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians. I recall her turning up the radio and singing along when it came on; I was maybe 9 or 10 and she was 15 or 16. I think the music was important to her because it kept her grounded and reminded her that she was still a teenager, even though she had so much responsibility. I feel the music was important to her because I remember it always in the background; we would wake up listening to the morning show (Paul Berlin on KNUZ radio) as we got ready for school, and then into the night. The radio was always on.

Nina really wasn't that much older than me, but she still shouldered serious responsibilities while my mother worked. I didn't think much of it at the time, but years later, and especially now that she is gone, I realize just how much she must have missed out on because of caring for us. I don't ever remember her complaining or treating us badly, but instead remember the music and the sisterly friendship. Contemplating back on this time of my childhood, things could have been so very different and perhaps even dangerous for a house full of kids ranging in age from 15 to 3 years, but somehow, I remember it as a relative happy time, thanks to Nina's capable personality. Now when I hear that song, it reminds me of my sweet sister, as well as the sacrifices she made for me, and the relative carefree and happy childhood I experienced because of her. Hearing that song makes my eyes water, and a huge lump forms in my throat, but still a sliver of a smile touches the corners of my mouth.

photo of Janet Gonzalez

Via Julie Seda

Janet Gonzalez, 60s

Juanes' 'A Dios Le Pido'

"A Dios le Pido" by Juanes was her favorite song of all. She mumbled it daily with great joy. The song says, "I ask God that should I die, let it be of love or because of love." This song is about asking God to make a life meaningful and a death meaningful. Janet did that for me. She started working for me around the house when I was working long hours. She then helped me take care of my Godmother who was sick and she took care of her with love, compassion, and dignity. I owe her the world for that. And when I listen to this song, I think of Janet's contribution to my life and how she would love for more people to know and sing this song and for her children, Yanira and Jan, that she lived and died loving them deeply and carelessly, just like "A Dios le Pido" says. We spoke Dece. 19 and she was fine. She was gone due to COVID-19 on Dec. 31.

Janet's real name was Sofia. She worked cleaning and cooking all her life. She made the most delicious traditional Puerto Rican food. She was a wonderful friend who just expected respect and appreciation. When I hear this song, I think how incredibly grateful I am to have met her because our 20-year friendship taught me that how people treat each other is more important than what they do or don't do. And while all our days are counted, when I hear this song, I think that we can make a difference one life at a time just as Janet did with the people she helped. She was loved by her neighbors and her children buried her as she wanted. However, her daughter cried to me as she mentioned that so many of her peers died of violence ... Janet lived in Santurce [Puerto Rico] in a neighborhood filled with violence and she was grateful for the love she gave and received. So, this song also means to me you can make a choice to love. Heaven has an angel singing and mumbling "A Dios Le Pido."

photo of H. Lincoln Myers

Via the Myers family

H. Lincoln Myers, 88

'His Eye Is On The Sparrow'

"I Sing Because I'm Happy" (or alternatively titled "His Eye Is On The Sparrow") inspired my dad as he went through difficult times in his life. The thought that if God's eye is on an insignificant sparrow, his eye is surely on each of us as we go through the trials and tribulations of life.

It is a part of my faith in God. He will never leave or forsake us and will provide all of our needs.