This was written 5 years ago when my mother was still alive. Now I am sharing it again as I remember my mother on Mothering Sunday.
I grew up in a house which had a steady stream of visitors. At the very least these visitors were always offered a cup of tea and quite often we had a full table at mealtimes. We lived on a farm; it wasn’t particularly isolated but the polite thing to do was to offer hospitality to those who had made the journey to see us. Not just friends but also the people who came to fix things or help with the upkeep on the farm. Whoever it was, electrician or general fixer my mother always offered trays of tea with sugar, milk and biscuits.
As she grew older she continued to offer tea to all visitors. The opportunity to chat over a cup of tea with a visitor was very welcome. Sometimes it was set down on the floor by the workman’s tools and at other times she gave them tea at the kitchen table and liked the company it provided. She often remarked how surprised people were to be offered a cup of tea; as if this was not a courtesy offered by many people.
Now she can no longer live on her own and needs a carer to help her through the confusion of day to day life. However, this offering of tea has remained a constant in my mother’s life. Whenever the plumber, electrician or gardener comes she will still go through the routine of putting the kettle on and laying out the tray and offering the tea. Because her memory is so poor she can never remember that she has already asked someone if they would like tea so this ritual can be repeated quite often until they leave.
She was always an incredible cook but can no longer manage the sequences and organisation that cooking requires. However, the good hostess of yester year still operates on automatic when it comes to making tea. Until recently I would try to distract my mother to stop her bothering the person who has come to fix something but just recently I was told about the ‘SPECAL method’. I haven’t explored it fully yet but certain things make sense.
Amongst other things, the method involves finding the person with dementia’s Primary Theme. ‘This is drawn from the person’s pre-dementia past, and represents an area of former expertise that has previously promoted a feeling of self-fulfilment and confidence’. In my mother’s case this is being a good hostess.
As the Contented Dementia website says: ‘The person’s Primary Theme can be used in ways which enable the person with dementia to ‘help’ others. This is highly significant in terms of restoring their sense of independence and worth’.
So, instead of trying to distract her from the loop of offering tea she should be allowed to be the ‘hostess’. This does require patience from all parties but the calm which comes to the situation when you go with ‘it’ is well worth the effort.
The photo below is a bit blurry, I know, but it is a tray of tea as laid out by my mother about 5 years ago. It had to be properly done - tray, bone china, milk jug and cake, of course.