Green Vanilla Tea

By Marie Williams

Book review by Fiona Edwards, Community Liaison Officer, Alzheimer’s Napier

Green Vanilla Tea tells the true story of Dominic, diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia and motor neurone disease in his early 40’s. Marie Williams, Dominic’s wife, writes an inspiring and compassionate account of their experience.

Like many younger people diagnosed with dementia, Dominic had a career, and two teenage sons living at home. Dominic’s career required him to travel and, at times, present at conferences.

In the beginning Dominic’s life seemed to be unravelling. Work and travel related problems, miscommunication and fixations. Dominic’s usual social graces were abandoning him. “When did this quirky behaviour move beyond endearing?” This unravelling progressed at a fast pace, a diagnosis was made after many tests and assessments, and Dominic’s family admitted that they were losing Dominic, that he had entered a “strange and vague world”.

Marie’s enormous respect and love for Dominic was evident throughout the book. She realised early on that a non-confrontational approach to Dominic’s behaviours would allow them to see the things that still mattered to him, and genuinely join him in his sense of accomplishment. As a result of this there were many special family times organised and shared, none more so than the creation of a quilt. The family could “wrap him in it so he could feel it when he had no more words”; a way to remember him “when none of our old Dominic was left”. Marie knew that gathering stories would be important, “the first step in reclaiming Dominic”.

A wonderful support network of family and friends worked alongside Marie and the boys. Marie took time away from her job when Dominic required someone to be with him both night and day. Marie’s nights were broken with Dominic’s relentless desire to walk and walk. Understandably this took its toll and, after a period of respite in a rest home, Marie was offered a permanent place for Dominic at the same rest home. Many people who care for their loved one with dementia will understand Marie when she asked “Is he sick enough to be in a rest home?” Marie realised that she had lost perspective, yet others could see how things had become. Dominic died soon after.

Green Vanilla Tea was written by Marie for her boys. It is her first book. The name came about because Dominic would enjoy making green vanilla tea for the friends who visited his home. Marie Williams lives in Australia. Medical management of Dominic’s illness is similar to our own here in New Zealand, and similarities between the two countries (at that time in Marie and Dominic’s case) of no established services for young people, no common language to convey or understand the multiple needs of a family in this situation.  

Ita Buttrose, National President of Alzheimer’s Australia writes a note to the reader at the end of the book. She talks about knowing the person with dementia – then there is hope of some quality of life for that person. Marie Williams shows us how that can be done in this beautiful love story.

Green Vanilla Tea is the winner of the Finch Memoir Prize 2013. This book will appeal to everybody, such is the quality of this book, but will be particularly enjoyed by all those affected by dementia.    

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