John Prine’s Wife Fiona Recalls Her Final Hours With Him: ‘I Told Him I Would Be Okay’
About six weeks ago, on April 7, folk icon John Prine died of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). In a new BBC feature, the singer-songwriter's wife, Fiona Prine, details the weeks the led up to his hospitalization, and her final hours with him before his death.
John Prine had a 10-city European tour planned for February that he wound up cutting short due to a previously suffered hip injury that he aggravated while on the road, necessitating surgery on Feb. 18. What wound up being his final show took place in Paris, France, one of Prine's favorite cities. It was his first-ever show in the city, and was sold out.
After surgery, Fiona says, her husband was "looking forward to ... getting back to the life he loved," but for the time being, they were opting to stay home because they knew the coronavirus could be a threat, especially to John, who had beat cancer twice and was 73 years old. Beginning to socially distance themselves "seemed an easy and wise option," Fiona notes.
Even though both of them felt well, John Prine's doctor advised that they both be tested for the coronavirus because they had been traveling in Europe. On March 16, Fiona recalls, they received the results: John's test was indeterminate, and hers was positive.
"I had no symptoms and no idea how to react," she says, "so I quarantined away from John. That was tough."
As Fiona developed symptoms and isolated herself from her family, her sister and brother-in-law took care of John, and they FaceTimed each other multiple times each day. It was the day before Fiona's quarantine ended that her husband mentioned that he wasn't feeling well.
"My heart sank. My stomach churned. I hardly slept that night," Fiona remembers, and when her isolation period ended on March 26, "he was weak and his blood pressure was low." She took him to the ER and remained outside as they took him in.
"The next 13 days were an emotional roller coaster," Fiona admits, explaining that it was "some good news, followed by difficult news, then [the news that John was] stable for 24 hours." However, "his organ function steadily declined," and late the night of April 6, their 24th wedding anniversary, a doctor called and told Fiona to come to the hospital "immediately."
"I felt like throwing up," she says, but she rushed over and spent her husband's final 17 hours with him.
"He was in deep sedation and hooked up to all kids of machines," Fiona Prine recalls. "I talked to him, I held his unresponsive hand, I sang and played messages from our boys and from his brothers. I played [John Prine's friend and collaborator] Iris DeMent singing gospel songs she sent to me that night, just for him.
"I told him things I'd forgotten to tell him, things I had never told him. I told him that he was beloved by the world, that he had done wondrous things with his life," she adds, "and in the end, I told him that my heart would be broken forever, but he could go on ahead and be with his mom and dad, with his brother Doug, with all those aunties that loved him. I told him I would be okay and would hold our three boys close, that we would talk about Grandpa all the time with the little ones."
John Prine died at 5:26PM that afternoon. In the wake of his death, Fiona and his family — his sons Jody, Jack and Tommy, their spouses and children — were met with "an avalanche of love for this man whose songs meant so much to so many." In her BBC piece, Fiona Prine mentions they've been working on an online tribute in John's honor.
"I am grateful for the work, because it keeps me connected to my husband," she says, "but it's hard, too."
John Prine is one of more than 294,000 people who have died of the coronavirus worldwide as of May 14, according to the World Health Organization. "I look at the daily numbers and wish in vain that the number on the screen was minus one," Fiona says, and notes that all of those who have lost a loved one to the virus are in her heart.
"I think about the grieving families around the world, each with their own story of loss. I cry in real time with them, knowing that we share a common bond," she says. "Our loved ones will have their very own chapter in the history books to come. My heart goes out to all of them."
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