From my first hearing until now of "Dido's Lament," composer Henry Purcell's aria from "Dido and Aeneas," the song has struck me, as it has so many, for its simple beauty and universal plea of the dying to those left behind: Remember me when I am gone.
Dido, the Queen of Carthage, who dies from that ancient staple of melodrama, a broken heart after being abandoned by Aeneas, the Trojan prince, not only asks her court to remember her but to forget the misfortune at the end of her life's end.
Over the years, I have often thought about Dido's final request. With nearly every premature passing of a relative or friend by disease or accident, I have reminded myself that it is the wondrousness of their very existence, brief though it was, that our departed would want us to fix on, not the car wreck, not the cancer. Forget their fates, they would tell us. That's what I hope to remember to say, if there's time enough, when my own end approaches.
Maybe in that moment my mind's eye will conjure up operatic star Jessye Norman, arrayed in queenly finery, singing "Dido's Lament" in what may be the most moving version of the aria ever performed. There are certainly far worse ways to go.