So far, Jo had figured a great deal in our Ceret story. In the early days, when we couldn’t speak the language and hadn’t a clue how things worked, she’d gone to extraordinary lengths to help us and along the way we’d become firm friends. I thought long and hard about including this part of what happened to her in this blog, but came to the conclusion that she would have preferred to have had her story told. I hope that it will be taken in the spirit in which it is written, a homage to a dear friend.
Three years had passed since Jo’s stroke and it was becoming obvious to everyone that this once lively and vivacious woman was slowly but surely slipping into a dark place where no-one — neither family nor friends — could reach her. Since the time when she’d asked us to help her catch a peacock, we’d had many glasses of wine, many laughs and many scrapes together. Jo had helped us with many aspects of our new life and had even tried — and failed — to teach me French.
She was easily the most energetic and determined person I’d come across in my life so when the disastrous stroke happened I believed that if anyone could overcome it, she could. Sadly, I was mistaken in this belief and bit by bit Jo’s difficulties overwhelmed her.
One day, standing from her wheelchair to reach the tap, she lost her balance and fell on her bad arm. This meant an operation, a pin in the shoulder joint and any future possibility of moving her left arm disappeared. Worse than the lack of mobility was that the accident put paid to the little confidence Jo had left.
When Jo started to talk about Dignitas, at first it was a bit of a joke, something that seemed improbable and far off. With some qualms I’d even helped to download the application form. At the time I asked what she thought would happen to Arthur but she dismissed my objections, saying he could have the home help in to do the housework. And with her habitual determination, like a dog with a bone, Jo ticked off the boxes. The application form was sent off together with medical records and a report from a psychiatrist.
“Do you think she’ll really do it?” Arthur constantly asked us in the privacy of our kitchen.
When a date was given, the shocking fact that our friend was going to take her own life stared us in the face.
Something that sustained Jo during those last months was the idea of writing her life story, or at least the part of it when she’d worked as a buyer for a company that supplied wood and wood products to the DIY marketplace in the UK. As a buyer with a big budget, Jo had travelled widely to exotic locations such as Brazil and China. One of her anecdotes from this period was that she was on her way to a company in Brazil, knowing she had to persuade them to accept a lower price than in a previous year. Jo wondered what tactic would be best in this tricky situation. She arrived at the company headquarters, slapped the new contract on the table and announced that she was off shopping for new shoes. “See you in two days,” she said. When Jo appeared two days later, carrying several carrier bags filled with shoes, the contract was signed.
But I prefer to remember the Jo who excelled in everything she did, from playing petanque to cooking. And most of all, her amazing sense of humour.
Arthur was away in the UK when Jo decided to give herself a haircut. She snipped away, and away, and away, until all that was left was straggly tufts of blond hair. Oh my god, she thought, staring at her own reflection in the mirror. I must go to a hairdresser before Arthur gets back! The first hairdresser stared, then sniggered and refused to help. At the next hairdresser Jo caught sight of the owner signalling to the young girl at the desk that no, they most definitely couldn’t help. Her next stop was Galerie Lafayette, where she bought herself a very expensive wig.
Jo could hardly contain her laughter as she sat in my kitchen, looking most glamorous. She’d worn the wig for several days and received lots of compliments on how well she was looking. She decided to wear it when she collected Arthur from the airport. ‘Hello love,’ he said, hardly glancing at her.
The next day Jo showered and sat in their kitchen with little bits of her real, wet hair sticking out all over the place. Arthur walked the dog. On his return Jo looked like a glamour puss but Arthur didn’t notice. This went on for the best part of a week, until she owned up.
The evening before her departure for Switzerland, in her customary style, Jo threw a party. It was a difficult occasion for all of us who loved her — friends, family and neighbours — but we all tried to stay positive, to be happy for her sake and to celebrate the life of an amazing woman.
Jo didn’t want to go to heaven or hell, she hoped there was no afterlife, wanting only oblivion. But if there is an afterlife, I know that Jo will be looking down, very pleased to see a part of her story in this blog. Goodbye, Jo, we miss you.