Early-onset dementia, though uncommon, is said to affect 6% of people under the age of 65 who have the genes to develop the disease. In the United States, that means nearly 300,000 people with dementia can develop the disease before the age of 65. In Green Vanilla Tea, Marie Williams tells the uncommon, yet very true and heartbreaking story of how early-onset can impact a person, a family, and a marriage.
In one review, Kaethe Weingarten, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, perfectly encapsulates the premise of the book, “a story about how families and communities cope with ambiguous loss that precedes the physical death of a loved one.”
Early on in the book, the family and Williams are shocked by her husband Dominic’s sudden and unexplained mood changes. He was sporadic with his feelings, at times vacant and removed, and at other moments, intensely and unexplainably angry.
During an early chapter, Williams recounts the time her husband was pinning one of their sons to the ground. She said she turned into a mother bear, only thinking about her son’s safety. However, after the two men were separated and both were fine, Dominic was in a panic and reactive. She was left with many troublesome questions:
Why was a man that was so gentle attacking our son?
Are we safe?
Is my marriage falling apart?
For many months Dominic would jump from calm to anxious to angry without warning. He never became physical with anyone, but the fear of what he could do to others and himself constantly plagued Williams. She described that evenings were the worst for the family. “At the end of the day, as the sun slipped down over the horizon, it took with it some of Dominic’s light,” Williams wrote. The family would later learn this was what is known as sundowning.
Dominic did not question or resist Williams taking him to get a CT scan. Weeks of neurological testing provided no answers. Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses were tossed around during this time. Dementia and Alzheimer’s were not even a possibility in the family’s eyes as Dominic was only 40 years old.
After months of testing, taking bipolar medications and mood stabilizers, Dominic was diagnosed with dementia, or as the family called it “The Green Goblin,” the monster that took their father and husband from them.
Williams recounts the remaining time she has with her husband throughout the book. She would be the sole person to manage his environment and care for him throughout this journey. She was also at the forefront of his changing moods. One web review says the story was “Agonizing and heartbreaking- yet told with eloquence!”
This memoir will remind you of the importance of quality time with your family and the power memory has in our lives. Williams was able to hold onto the memories of her husband and see the light moments during tough times. Dominic still liked making art, listening to music, watching his favorite sports team, and making the family cups of tea. His true persona continued to glimmer through the disease, making his limited time left with his family all the more precious.