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Carlos M. Herrera, 65: Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's 'Over the Rainbow'

Updated May 17, 2022 at 6:46 PM ET

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Two years later, 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.

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. —Adriana Martinez, niece

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