Saying Goodbye To Jo

January 20, 2017

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.

View from the keys.


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.

15 comments so far.

15 responses to “Saying Goodbye To Jo”

  1. Denise says:

    Oh, I wrote and lost the comment…. I said that I liked what your friend said, about crying, that it was what that say was for. I am sorry for your loss, Jo seemed to be – and is, in her friends’ hearts – a very sweet person. Rehearsing with her was of course nice, so you got to know each other… it’sreally said to say good-bye to a friend 🙁

  2. Rachel Glynn says:

    Sounds like you more than have this covered. For what it’s worth a few people over the last 2 months have mentioned how they need to #bemoreJo. I mentioned to Twan and Anna on Thursday, it’s not be more Jo but be more us…..the people that Jo cared and thought so much of. As for only offering a song… was beautiful and perfect and helped us give Jo the send off we imagined when we planned it. Maybe it was all for us but I just wanted to show off my fabulous friend and make sure everyone got one last chance to see how wonderful she was, in both her talents and friendships. So thank you for sharing and capturing so many of Jo’s little quirks in your writing! I’m sorry I missed you in the bar after to tell you in person that you did a wonderful job but now I can say this blog post is another wonderful thing you have done. Thanks for sharing! I think you just channeled Jo in a big way

  3. I never know what to say when something like this happens, so thank you for sharing your words. I hope you had a good cry. I can see how special it was to have Jo in your life, and for Jo to have you in hers.

  4. Jane says:

    I’m sorry again for your loss – thinking of you and all Jo’s friends.

  5. Beccy Reese says:

    Thanks for your words and openness. Both are a comfort. Beccy

  6. Natasha says:

    Oh Laila, this was so gorgeously written and I won’t lie, I was crying when I reached the final paragraph and I agree completely; channeling the people we love when they are gone, into what we do each day is a wonderful way to remember them and let their legacy live on. It is never easy when we lose the ones we love, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been during the memorial, and I hope you are doing as OK as you can. The fact that you played during it must have been incredibly emotional but beautiful to hear and see too, and I am sure that your friend would have loved it. I liked the fact that the dress code was Jo’s favourite colour too, what a beautiful idea and way to say goodbye. Sending lots of love your way Laila. <3 – Tasha

  7. I’m sending thoughts and prayers to Jo and you, your words echo my feelings x

  8. Katie Smith says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve only just found it but it brings the whole day back in perfect colour.
    One of the comments really struck me – not only be more Jo, but be more us, because that’s who Jo loved us for being. Miss her more than words can say. The world, MT, City Academy, none of us, will ever be the same.
    I don’t know if this will come out wrong, but in a way I have started to see her a bit like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, so many others cut down far too early and in their prime. But in a way that means we always have her as she was then, she will never age as we do, she will always be the young, beautiful, talented, amazing, warm person we remember, that will never change and never stop.
    Her image – to me, in the purple dress on the front of the memorial, with the mic, and her hand on her hip, will always remain “Jo”.

    I don’t really know what to say. Didn’t plan any of this, it just came out. Thank you again, for playing, for writing, for being one of us, and part of her life, and being there for her. So much love xxxxx

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