Jill Daum, at the Belfry theatre in Victoria. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Alzheimer’s story from wife of Spirit of the West singer takes stage

Jill Daum, wife of musician John Mann, writes ‘Forget About Tomorrow’, playing now in Victoria

Jill Daum says writing a play about a family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s helped her get out of bed some days as she fought to accept her husband’s diagnosis of the cruel disease.

Daum is married to musician John Mann, the driving force behind the Canadian band Spirit of the West, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s almost six years ago and now, at age 55, lives in a care home.

“Forget About Tomorrow” opened Jan. 25 at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre and is scheduled to run until Feb. 18. It is also scheduled to start March 1 at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre.

“The story is fictional but it was certainly inspired by what I learned from living with John. What I learned as a caregiver and what I’ve had to watch him go through,” said Daum in an interview hours before the opening night performance.

She said Alzheimer’s takes its toll on more than just the individual with the disease. It ransacks families and the play explores the decline of a family and couple as the disease slowly gnaws at long-standing bonds, she said.

“It’s about the wife who’s married to the person who gets the diagnosis and how it affects her and her family, and her path to accepting what her life will be,” Daum said. “She goes down a few rabbit holes … and eventually comes to a place of acceptance.”

Daum, who was rewriting lines right up until opening night, said the play evolved during sessions at a women’s writing workshop in Vancouver. She said she didn’t tell anybody about her husband’s diagnosis and the foundation of the play emerged during those gatherings.

“I started to write scenes about a woman whose husband had early-onset and nobody in the group knew John had it,” said Daum. “They were really impressed with my knowledge about the disease. I got to talk about what it was like for a caregiver. I got to do all of that without anybody knowing it was actually about me.”

“Forget About Tomorrow” is Daum’s first solo project, though she has collaborated on other plays.

She said Mann is not able to attend the Victoria performances.

“We’ve just gone through a really rough patch with him. But he’s still beautiful Johnny. He’s still snapping his fingers. There’s a lot of love for John in this show.”

She said Mann often helped her read lines in the scenes and he contributed two songs to the play.

The songs, “Forget to Forget,” and “Tom’s Song,” are the last songs Mann has written. The play opens and closes with the songs.

Daum said the play is an emotional roller-coaster, humorous and moving, as the family attempts to cope with upheaval in their lives. The performance arrives at a crossroad, where actor Jennifer Lines, who portrays the wife and caregiver, meets a new man and confronts a difficult decision.

“The dilemma is should Jane take it or stay with her husband when we all know in two years he won’t remember her name,” she said.

Daum said her personal road to acceptance of Alzheimer’s has been difficult, especially since the journey is continuing to its ultimate end.

“I will have a life past Alzheimer’s and John won’t. It’s hard for everybody,” Daum said.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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