When I heard about Jo, I felt numb and defeated. I didn’t really cry, but then, I don’t cry a lot. Yesterday was Jo’s memorial, and I surprised myself by crying constantly, mostly before even arriving. I cried when I watched the Season 3 finale of Bojack Horseman over breakfast. I cried listening to Nina Simone. I cried reading about Trump and Davos, and I cried when I finished writing a new piece. I cried on the train to the memorial because it was delayed, though I was on time. I cried when I realised I’d have to go back home after the memorial because I can’t afford a drink, let alone food. And finally I cried when I got there and the main focus of the day moved from the back of my mind into the moment in front of me.
Jo’s memorial took place in the Actor’s Church. It was the perfect setting; beautiful and fitting in a way I hadn’t realised was possible. The church was huge and airy, and although there were tonnes of us – there always is – we fit. The Actor’s Church welcomed us in and I was grateful. I was reminded of the only other times I’ve been in a church in recent years; Stuart’s funeral where we had to stand outside the actual room, and Pete’s funeral, where his students (literally schoolchildren) sat cross-legged in front of the pews. I thought of the orange prom dress and the blue scarf hanging up in my wardrobe, the items I own for their funerals. We’re not yet at the age where people wear black.
The colour to wear to Jo’s memorial was purple, her favourite. It was stressed not to buy anything specifically, but I decided to purchase a £30 windbreaker last week in Camden anyway. It reminded me of the time at some party where we were talking about 80s babies. I denied being one and Jo proceeded to explain what the phrase meant. “No no babes! It’s not a bad thing! We all are! Me, you, Nadira, you know!”. She thought I didn’t understand the term, rather than realising I wasn’t born in the 80s. When it twigged she burst out laughing, bent double going “Oh my GOOOOOD!”. I saw this purple 80s windbreaker on Saturday and I just picked it up and bought it. That is the story of how I, the most thrifty and money-conscious person in the world, spent a large portion of my monthly budget on a single jacket. I’d do it again.
Jo would ask me to play piano when she rehearsed for auditions. I’m so glad now that I had this time. When you rehearse with somebody – that close-knit, frustrating, hashing-it-out kind of rehearsal – you see part of their processes, their methods. I don’t think it’s coincidence that my closest friends (James and Nilo) are the people I play and rehearse with the most. After Pete died, the times I thought of most were the difficult rehearsals we had. After Jo died it was the same. I think more of the times I played for her one-on-one than the times we rehearsed en masse, although the hours shared as a group far outnumber those of just us two.
Jo and I were opposites in many ways. We had opposite roles in our big MT group. Jo was one of the oldest, undeniably the mother of the group (earning the affectionate nickname “Mama MT”), and I was (am?) the youngest, less than halfway through my undergrad when I joined. Jo was this warm, welcoming presence; she made sure everyone was included and took responsibility for all manner of things. I always felt the grateful recipient of a certain level of support and protection; the way you might look after a child. It would never be my round in the pub, and somebody else would always sort printing copies for me. That sort of thing. Jo emanated that kind of wordless generosity, but without her it is still there.
Jo and I were also opposite in approach. Jo was a perfectionist, but in a different way to me. I tend to labour over things and then hide them away. I get embarrassed even when this blog occasionally auto-posts to facebook, frantically deleting the evidence. Jo was always SO positive about her work and she took so much pride – once it was perfected, she would share it. She posted updates and pictures about every performance and every role on social media, how excited and grateful she was. Her mantra was #hardworkpaysoff and she didn’t just believe it; she KNEW it. She lived it. There is so much to learn from Jo, her approach, her attitude.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Jo. It was a beautiful ceremony – the speeches were warm, insightful and deeply moving. The music and the hymns were evocative and well chosen. And of course the setting was exquisite – even the lights were purple. For my part, I sat down after playing the piano in floods of tears and half a dozen hands reached out to pat me on the back. I felt that protective warmth from the group; I felt like the kid again. Being offered help I cannot offer back. All I can offer is playing a damn song – and yet, that was good enough for Jo. We went in and drank in a bar after and at least 4 people said “How are things? I’ve been keeping up with your blog!” and I started thinking, maybe I should just let it share itself to facebook and be done with it. Jo would have. Maybe I should try a bit of that.
It is cruel and yet weirdly fitting that yesterday I could play for Jo. Just sitting at that piano felt like an honour. I made all my mistakes in the warm-up and none in the performance itself – the way you hope it will go. Today I channel Jo in a tiny way; both in the pride I feel for not messing it up and in sharing the story here. Because what are these events for, really? I already know they are not for the dead; they are for us. I was trying so hard not to cry when I arrived yesterday. Pippa noticed and just said, “Don’t worry, that’s what today’s for”. Cry together, and then carry on as a group, as an individual. Carry on in whatever way you can. And if you can make some tiny change, or channel some small part of the person into a single thing you do, then great. I think that’s the best kind of goodbye you can ask for.