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Rita Levay, 76: Journey, 'Lights'

Rita Levay, of Albany, N.Y., died at the age of 76.
Courtesy of Jessica Johnson
Rita Levay, of Albany, N.Y., died at the age of 76.

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.

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. —Jessica Johnson, niece

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.