Another Very Serious Post, John Prine and “When I Get To Heaven”

As is wont to happen, if you update your blog as regularly as I do, aspects of your personal life tends to seep out onto the pages. Although I am fully aware I have a tendency to perhaps over-share, I seem to find it impossible to resist, as this blog is in effect my web-diary as well as the place where I share all the music I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Likewise, I’ve almost stopped counting the number of times I’ve put up a warning I might be absent for a while, only for you loyal followers to find me back in action soon afterwards. Some of you will remember I did that recently, and then wrote a short post explaining why – Right at the start of September my 83-year-old mum had a bad fall, but after taking her to A&E to be checked over, she was proclaimed fit to go home. A very fraught week followed, when just at the time I was supposed to start my long-awaited college course, I had to pretty much provide round-the-clock care for her. It became apparent however that something was very far wrong and after a particularly bad night spent entirely in her living room chair (as she was unable to move), I bravely pulled her flat’s emergency cord to summon help.

It was such a relief to see an ambulance arrive soon after and the guys who piled into her little flat were just brilliant, dealing with my poor mum in a really professional and sensitive manner. It was decided to take her back to A&E where we both spent a long day waiting for the results of tests and X-rays. In fact it wasn’t until around 2pm that I realised I’d not had breakfast yet, but such is the lot of an accompanying relative. By mid afternoon we knew she had fractured her pelvis and it was decided to transfer her to the smaller community hospital which is fortunately situated quite near to where we live.

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Our local community hospital

We are now nearly four weeks on from that momentous day and her physical recovery is going well. I visit daily, but on week one of her stay I suddenly became dog tired, as I think the adrenaline that had kept me going until then, suddenly left town. By week two however I was starting to feel like my old self again. I was able to return to blogging and managed to leave some comments on the various blogs I follow (I even managed to play Rol’s Saturday Snapshots!). As mentioned a few weeks ago, the college course was now a non-starter, but thankfully they let me reapply as a part-time student and that is going really well. Mr WIAA and I have also had a bit of a social life of late, visiting the theatre, the cinema and taking DD and her lovely boyfriend out for food. Even our little online store seems to be picking up lots of orders, as I’ve had the time to properly market it for the first time in quite a while. Life, as they say, is sweet. My mum is being well cared for, and I’ve got my life back on track.

So what’s the problem I hear you ask? Well as those of you who follow this blog know, I’ve spent most of this year struggling to cope with that most dreadful of non-physical ailments which affects so many older people – My mum’s dementia, or specifically in her case, Alzheimer’s Disease. I am reminded of something from Billy Connolly’s latest stand-up routine. “I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease”, he says. “But I wish he’d f**king kept it to himself”. Yes Billy, and I imagine all of those with Alzheimer’s feel exactly the same way, until the time comes when they are no longer even aware of their affliction.

I know there will be moves afoot in the very near future to send her home again. Beds are in short supply and that awful term “bed-blocker” gets applied to so many old souls, who by sheer accident, have found themselves with a fractured hip or pelvis after tripping over a kerb, or in my mum’s case, falling down some stairs. These are people who perhaps kept the home fires burning during the war, raised a family, carried out good deeds for their community, worked until retirement age, and paid taxes. At this stage in life however, they are called “bed blockers”, old folks who seem to be treated as if they are deliberately hogging a hospital bed through sheer ill-will.

Of late I have taken to sneaking in and out of my mum’s hospital room when the nurses are away from their work station, such is my fear of being told I can now take her home. The dementia has ramped up to a whole new level since being in hospital as the daily routine I used to organise for her is no more. I have been reassured by others who have been in a similar situation that she can’t be sent home without a discharge plan, but the worry is still there at the back of my mind. I’ve got my life back, and am reluctant to return to how things were.

As someone who has no siblings, I have been feeling the burden of care acutely of late, and ironically, after waiting for eight months to get help from the social care system, I finally got the call a day after the admission to hospital. They always say there has to be a crisis in order to get help and it seems that is indeed the case. People of my mum’s generation are living longer due to advances in medicine, but sadly, family life has changed. Most of us live in relatively small houses compared to those of my grandparent’s generation, so often no scope for taking in our old folk. The state pension age is now 67, so often no-one at home to do the caring anyway. Also, in the case of dementia, 24 hour care will eventually be needed, so not something many of us would be able to offer anyway.

Big decisions are going to have to be made soon I suspect, and it’s at times like this I wish I could turn to my dad for advice. He was one of my best friends but died a full 15 years ago. By sheer chance I heard this song on the radio whilst coming home from a hospital visit the other week and it has stuck with me. I think the host of the show was Whispering Bob, who at the end of the song said it was by John Prine. Until I started writing this blog I had never heard of John Prine but he often pops up over at CC’s wonderful place and has featured in Jez’s Sunday Morning Coming Down series. Whatever, despite being a bit of a non-believer, I was taken by the lyrics to When I Get To Heaven, written for his new album “The Tree of Forgiveness”. I realise this song choice might appear insensitive for the theme of this particular post, but trust me, the reason I picked it was because of these lines of lyric:

And then I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts

Yes, there is nothing more I would like at the moment than to go find my dad, and ask for his advice (or is it perhaps “his permission” I wonder). Heck, listening to this song, I’m almost prepared to be converted, as there is a definite party atmosphere going on. John Prine has apparently been treated for cancer twice, and it was after his second bout that he wrote this song about some of the things he had to give up following his illness. Here is a quote: “I wrote that song because I figured there’s no cancer in heaven. So when I get up there, I’m going to have a cocktail and a cigarette that’s 9 miles long. That’s my idea of what heaven is like.” Way to go John.

When I Get To Heaven by John Prine:

I’m sorry if I’ve made anyone feel uncomfortable by mentioning such a personal family issue, but hey, our blogs sometimes feel like the most anonymous places we can turn to when a bit of writing therapy is required. From experience, our Facebook friends don’t want to hear of our woes, although if anyone ever does respond it is usually because they have been placed in similar situation. Likewise if anyone out there in the blogosphere has been in such a situation, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts – Any advice gratefully received.

Until next time, I’m off to give John Prine another whirl. Now 71, and still with us thankfully. Heaven is going to have to wait a while yet.

When I Get To Heaven Lyrics
(Song by John Prine)

When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain’t the afterlife grand?

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town

Then as God as my witness, I’m gettin’ back into show business
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syph’litic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ’em with my charm

‘Cause then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Yeah when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time after you’ve bought the farm?
And then I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead pecker-head”
I hope to prove him wrong… that is, when I get to heaven

‘Cause I’m gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town