Green Vanilla Tea is a true story of love and courage in the face of a deadly and little understood illness. With literary finesse, compassion, and a powerful gift of storytelling, Marie Williams writes poignantly of her husband Dominic’s struggles with early onset dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 40, and how their family found hope amidst the wreckage of a mysterious neurological condition. As the condition develops and progresses, the normally devoted family man and loving partner seems to disappear beneath an expressionless facade, erratic behavior, and a relentless desire to wander that often leaves him lost. The road to diagnosis is long and confusing, and what starts off as perplexing for the family then becomes frightening. The man they love is changing, and no one seems to know why. He no longer turns up to his sons’ high school events. He falls and bumps into things. He becomes verbally disinhibited, emotionally disengaged, and, at times, belligerent. He doesn’t seem to be able to read the social cues of other people. He gets lost in familiar places, as well as on obsessive work trips overseas. He recklessly spends the family money, leaving them in near financial ruin. Despite this, Williams and her children strive to find new ways to keep him safe and to connect with the husband and father they love so dearly.
While the family learns to cope with Dominic’s illness—which they call the Green Goblin—Williams is determined that her children reclaim the dad of their memories. She finds creative ways to make visible the stories of the man beyond the illness, and helps them remember him as the engaged, healthy, and loving man she fell in love with. She humanizes the experience through storytelling and assembling a quilt made up of transferred photographs, painted artwork, family footprints, and personal inscriptions from family and friends. This, along with tea rituals, music, and stories of fatherhood, love and value, support them as fierce advocates for Dominic’s dignity and give the family new ways to be together as they journey through his decline. Spanning between moments of intense joy and incredible sadness, this book is a passionate testament to one family’s unconditional love for one another. It is, “a tale of a strange place—the real world— in which green goblins and hope find a way to live together.”
Above all, it is a love story.
Marie Williams has worked as a clinical social worker in health settings, nonprofit sectors, clinical education, and private practice. She is also an artist and believes in the power of creativity and story to transform. The Australian edition of Williams’ book, Green Vanilla Tea won the national Finch Memoir Prize in 2013. Williams lives in Brisbane, Australia.
“I dare you to read Green Vanilla Tea and not fall in love with this family. Marie Williams has written a beautiful memoir about facing illness and loss with love and hope. She has opened her family’s life and experiences to us in a way that will help us stay in touch with the richness of life and relationships, even in times of heartbreak and the loss of dreams. Thank you, Marie Williams, for this extraordinary love story.” —Jill Freedman, MSW, family therapist and director of Evanston Family Therapy Center in Evanston, Illinois, as well as coauthor of Symbol, Story, and Ceremony; Narrative Therapy; and Narrative Therapy with Couples
“This beautifully written memoir of a husband and father who suffers a premature death is also a story about how families and communities cope with the ambiguous loss that precedes the physical death of a loved one. In the words of a young child who was part of the nurturing community that surrounded Dominic, ‘we will crowd you with our love.’ Insightful, heart-rending, and inspiring, this book offers the details of a family's life shattered by Dom's years of decline and death from a rare neurological condition. While particular about these people, Green VanillaTea provides lessons about love, care, generosity, and sadness. With unflinching descriptions of the darkness and despair the family faced, the book also shows their path toward solace and hope. Movingly, it shows how they were able to repair and restore a sense of wholeness to their interrupted lives. I highly recommend this brave book.” —Kaethe Weingarten, PhD, associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School (1981-2013) and director of the Witnessing Project at www.witnessingproject.org
“Heartbreaking, compelling, warm and compassionate. It’s a knockout book that hits so many of the right notes and is completely relevant in today’s world. And it’s unbelievably—considering the tragedy—uplifting. An inspiring read.” —Susan Duncan, author of Salvation Creek
"[I was] moved by the tragedy of the story, and the love and trust and care and kindness everybody showed.” —Jacqui Kent, editor and author of The Making of Julia Gillard
“Nobody has the right to have the last word on a book as beautiful as this. There would be few who have loved and cared for a person with dementia who will not be able to relate to the many moments of acute sadness, laughter, and joy in this book.” —Ita Buttrose, AO, OBE
“Green Vanilla Tea is the winner of the 2013 Finch Memoir Prize and it’s easy to see why. Williams has written a powerful and heartbreaking account of her husband’s illness, and the challenges faced by the family, which never loses sight of the immense love that binds this family together. This is an inspiring and important memoir.” —Sarina Gale, Books + Publishing
“The standard of the entries we receive improves every year. Marie won against some fierce competition including finalist Heath Lander’s book The Bouncer, which we will publish later in 2013. However, the judges agreed that Green Vanilla Tea was the standout entry this year, making us laugh, cry, and above all, reflect on the value of love and family.” —Rex Finch, Finch Publishing