(10 September 1941 – 19 February 2023)
In gratitude to Ruth Lavender and everyone else who attended the Quaker-style Memorial Gathering on Sunday the 12th of March 2023 and to her daughter Tanya & son Mark
I corresponded with Jo in the 1990s as part of a small group sharing and work-shopping haiku. I first met her in the early 2000s when the British Haiku Society had organised a walk along The Tarka Trail in Devon, staying in various lodgings along the way. As Jo lived in Cornwall, she was able to meet us half-way and continue to the end of the walk. She was a seasoned and strong walker and a pleasure to be with. My strongest memory is of her getting off the bus on the way back before the rest of us: she just had to give everyone a hug as she left.
In 2007, a couple of years after her partner, Frank, died, she moved to Skipton. Her touching haibun (Last Words) about his death was published in Blithe Spirit Vol. 17 No.3, p.32. Before moving from Skipton to Hebden Bridge a year later, she hosted a meeting of the Yorks/Lanks group. She’d lived in Hebden Bridge earlier in her life.
I began to visit her about once a month and we had much joy in sharing haiku, as well as thoughts about haiku and Buddhism. It felt so natural and easy to hug whenever I arrived or left.
It’s easy to see from Jo’s best haikai that she was very intuitive. She kept in touch with her friends who first took Refuge in the Buddha with her on a retreat in Wales in the early 2000s (I think*). This was mainly by phone as they were all from different parts of Britain. But there was one of these friends in particular who she had a deeper connection with and one day she told me this friend had died. Jo had known about this before anyone told her because she felt it the moment this friend passed away.
In 2016 she suffered a stroke and lost sensation in her left arm and leg. She hated being in hospital and wrote an ironic and humorous haibun, Grapes and Silence about it. This is included in her last solo book, Wandering (2017).
I visited her several times in hospital and, when she came home, more often than before. We’d chat as usual, then make lunch and afterwards walk in the nearby woods along Hebdon Water. Although she had many Alexander Technique lessons, Reiki and Acupuncture treatments, both her left arm and leg remained stubbornly numb. But she was determined to continue with her walks.
Ruth Lavender writes:
… within weeks of getting home from hospital, she was out and about, doing the things she enjoyed, and proving her ability for independence again. I was astonished at how well she recovered and took back her life, getting out for walks by the river, and even up to Heptonstall - a long steep climb that many people less than half her age wouldn’t attempt!
*The retreat is recorded in her book, Earth Time Water & Sky, 2005
We didn’t see each other much during lockdown as we had differing views about keeping physical distance. So we kept in touch with phone calls, letters and texting haiku to each other. In November 2022 she had a mild heart attack and was in & out of hospital over a period of 10 days or so. When she was finally discharged she had so many health visitors etc, that she needed to rest or just have a quiet time when they weren’t there. She died on the morning of Sunday the 19th of February. A friend surmised that Jo got up and unlocked the door as she was expecting another friend to deliver some herbal remedies. She then went upstairs again to get dressed. The person who was bringing the herbal remedies called her and when there was no answer she went to the bedroom discovered Jo’s body. The cause of death was probably a heart attack.
Her son and daughter contacted me when they arrived at her house and said there had to be an autopsy to establish the cause of death as no one was with her when she died. Her son and daughter were going to see the coroner on Friday the 3rdh of March. At the time of writing there’s no confirmation of the cause of death.
Some of my favourites:
left in the sand
a broken eggshell
(Blithe Spirit Vol. 24 No.4)
man at the bus stop
the smell of grandmother’s
(Big Field, collection 2021)
the quiet of fading day
a fox cub
in the open doorway
(Earth Time Water & Sky, collection 2005)
woods free of people
embraced by a beech tree
(Time Haiku #52)
The last haiku refers to a particular experience. Ruth Lavender again:
She didn’t like to eat lunch at cafés because she felt she made too much of a mess, though she did enjoy a hot chocolate and a pastry outside at Hebden Bridge Railway station.
There is a tree accessible from one of the paths behind the station, which has grown in such a way that the large trunk forms a niche that is just big enough for a small adult to sit in. To me this will always be Jo’s tree! We would walk that way, and she would scramble up to sit in the tree, surrounded, and with the world outside dampened by the protection of the tree - and she would recite a long Buddhist poem as a prayer while sitting in the tree niche.
Someone else at the memorial said that Jo said she’d like to die sitting in that tree and let it grow around her. This person also used to massage her feet; he said that if she was in a grumpy mood when he started, she would be smiling before he finished. Several other people made references to her taciturn nature, as well as to her need for hugs. A particular man and Jo evolved a unique way of hugging: as he breathed out she breathed in and vice-versa and, in this way, his belly went out as hers went in, hers went out as his went in. They once spotted each other in the street and he crossed over and they had one of these hugs there and then. Jo wasn’t generous with her hugs; she was also thoughtful and generous with possessions she no longer had a use for. On one of my visits we took her sleeping bag and some blankets and clothes to the park to give to some people sleeping rough in a concrete shelter.
More memories from Ruth:
I first met Jo at Ralph’s group, and later she attended Hebden Bridge Quaker meetings for a time, before falling out with Hebden Bridge Quakers [Jo went to Quaker groups when there was no Buddhist group which had enough in common with her Tibetan tradition nearby]. I know she valued lasting connections with Skipton Quakers. One time when I was with her, she'd got upset and shouted, and I knew it wasn't really at me. As usual she rallied round and apologised, and I said to her "I can cope with being shouted at, even if I'd rather not, but if you throw anything at me I'm throwing it right back at you!" and she laughed, it was a lovely moment. I can imagine she was visualising, as I was, us picking stuff up and hurling it at each other, with no regard for age or other frailties.
I'm grateful Jo had meaningful connections with so many people. She could feel so alone, and yet nearly every day someone visited or phoned her.
The memorial began with Ralph leading us in singing a short Taizé song (sung in parts or as rounds and repeated until the singing comes to a natural end). He did the leading in a gentle way with a steady beat that made it easy to follow and join in. These songs occurred a few more times, when it seemed right. Ralph also told a little story about Jo visiting the Taizé group after her stroke (when she’d lost her sense of pitch): as the group was singing he noticed her moving forwards and backwards in time to the music with one hand on her heart. Ruth tells me it would have been a Dance for Universal Peace. When this is done with a group of people they form a line with one hand on the heart and the other on the shoulder of the person in front.
In her last few years Jo often said she didn’t want to live any longer, though she wasn’t suicidal. She kept a do not resuscitate certificate in full view in her living room and carried a copy with her when she was out waking. Her daughter told me these thoughts went back further than I’d thought. On reflection, I have the feeling they date back to when Frank died, and probably became more powerful after she intuited the death of the friend she took first refuge with on the retreat in Wales.
Write-up by Fred Schofield
- Earth Time Water & Sky, Jo Pacsoo (Palores Publications, 2005)
- Chiaroscuro, Jo Pacsoo (Palores Publications, 2009)
- Wandering, Jo Pacsoo (self-published, 2017)
- Big Field, Jo Pacsoo, Stewart Metcalfe & Fred Schofield (Hub editions, 2021)
a grey wagtail sings
in an oak tree
the still heron’s reflection
(Time Haiku #47)
at a holy well – the taste
of wild water
death the yellowness
into the slow dawn
of the shortest day
(Beyond Words/Отвъд думите, Farago, 2018)
after the waterfall
the quiet wood
silent in starlight the frozen pond
(Blithe Spirit Vol.22 No.2)
a skein of geese
unfurls the sky
(Blithe Spirit Vol.24 No.1)
lean into the river
a dazzle of crocus
(Blithe Spirit Vol.24 No.2)
cushioned in moss
the river’s rush