John Weyers – Playwright
by Judy Hebbe
It can take years for a playwright to write a play, and many more to finally see it produced. For John Weyers, a wish turned him into a playwright in less than two years, and he saw his work produced this September 2021 in New London and at the Performing Arts Center in Appleton.
As caregiver for his wife, Doris, who is experiencing dementia, he sought understanding by attending a play depicting developing mild cognitive impairment. In 12 scenes, the play covered the first year of the behavior changes. At the group discussion following the play, Weyers expressed the wish to see scenes from the second, third, and ensuing years as the disease progresses.
Cindy Thompson, a board member of Family Caregivers Rock and a part of his discussion group, said “You’ll have to write that.”
Although he had written presentations for his job as director of nursing for the Outagamie County Health Center, he had never written a script and only written prose for his own edification.
“I reread the journal I had been keeping about the challenges my wife and I were experiencing,” he said, “and as I reread it, scenes from the years 2007 to the present just jumped out. In four or five days, I had a rough play.”
Initially, he saw the play dealing with the progression of the disease and the behavioral challenges he and his wife were experiencing through the 15 years of their journey. When he asked himself what the greatest challenge was, he realized he was the greatest hurdle he had to overcome.
“My reactions to Doris’ anxiety and anger, my attempts to bring her back to my reality did not deal with her feelings and needs,” he said. “The story is as much, or more, my story and my learning as it is her story.”
Communication is difficult because she cannot vocalize her feelings or thoughts. Her behavior expresses her feelings. When she is tired, she asks to go home. When she is ornery, she is hungry.
She no longer recognizes her children, grandchildren, or her husband as her husband, but loves him as a caregiver. She carries a baby doll with her, which she wants him to show affection to and take care of both of them.
“Love is a choice,” Weyers said. “It may start as a feeling, but it grows by the choices we make, and the actions we take to show our love. I had made many mistakes in the eight or nine years that I tried to do this care alone. I was frustrated, lonely, and lonesome.”
Following lunch at the Thompson Center in 2015, the couple wandered into the Fox Valley Memory Project office. On the spur of the moment, they joined the choir, attended practices, then attended several Memory Cafes and a support group.
“That saved my life, as I was sinking at that point,” Weyers said. He has since joined three other support groups. “These groups saved my life. I discovered other people going through the same journey that I was.”
He relied on Thompson to bring the play to life. In addition to being on the board of directors for Family Caregivers Rock, Thompson is also Wish Committee chair and turned her efforts to making Weyers wish come true. She found sponsors for the performances; enlisted Mary Ellen Fields to cast and direct the play, and arranged for performances at New London and the P.A.C. Tom Vinje played Jack and Quinn Martenson played Susie. Margie Brown, director of the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe, served as co-director for the play.