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My mom was never, ever without a cup of Lipton’s tea. Like a dear friend, it held her hand, kept her warm, provided comfort.

She boiled water in her navy-speckled kettle, then poured it into a cup and, completely ignoring the recommended four-minute steep instructions, immediately lifted it to her lips. It always mystified me how her mouth didn’t suffer third-degree burns.

Mom’s penchant for thriftiness compelled her to use the same tea bag multiple times; only when it disintegrated and leaf particles floated to the surface did she accept defeat and reach for a fresh yellow packet.

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Her cupboard was stocked with dozens of mugs: I ❤️ my West Highland Terrier; Edinburgh castle; Blue Willow Diner; logos of universities her children had attended; the Janke’s Bookstore. Each of the white ceramic interiors was stained a taupe shade, which, to be perfectly honest, matched her teeth. For her retirement, I gifted her a dainty cup and saucer set befitting Queen Elizabeth, but it remained on the shelf. “It’s too nice to use,” Mom said.

Everything changed when Alzheimer’s arrived as an uninvited, intrusive guest at her tea party.

The stove was unplugged as a safety precaution. The microwave buttons were beyond her comprehension. The box of Lipton’s, along with dozens of other items, went missing. (Eventually, they were found in her storage closet along with car keys, overdue bills, and moldy banana peels.)

My siblings and I chose an assisted living/memory care facility with glossy brochures promising to “continue lifetime habits essential for resident’s well-being.” Well! Although I frequently requested, insisted, then ultimately implored the aides to serve Mom hot tea, she only received diluted cranberry juice cocktail and coffeeboth room temperature.

Mom lived there for seven years before the disease took her from us completely. I wish I could say that her last nutrient was a spot of tea, but it was a few spoonfuls of mushy puréed chicken soup.

My family opposed a traditional memorial service in a church or funeral home. Instead, we held a tea luncheon in our dear mama’s honor.

Former neighbors, coworkers, and longtime friends gathered around tables covered with pretty lacy linens and floral-printed china. A harpist played classical music as servers delivered tiered platters with delightful desserts, trays stacked with petite sandwiches, and crystal glasses with raspberry cordial. And tea, of course. Many, many, many pots of tea.

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I ordered personalized, keepsake tea bags from Etsy. On the front was Mom’s name and dates and on the back was the following poem:

Think of Me
When you’re feeling sad & blue
& don’t know what to do,
sit down & have a cup of tea
& simply think of me.
Remember the good times,
let troubles melt away,
our memories are treasured  
in your heart
each & every day!

We placed Mom’s urn next to a bouquet of Sarah Bernhardt peoniesher absolute favoriteand the dainty cup and saucer set she always deemed “too nice to use.”

Ha! I showed her.

tea sandwiches on a fancy plate with photo of woman in frame

Willow Springs Gardens Waldorf Tea Sandwiches

2 c. grated apples

1/2 c. minced celery

2/3 c. finely chopped walnuts

mayonnaise, to taste

24 slices cinnamon-raisin bread

Mix together apples, celery, and walnuts with enough mayonnaise to make spreadable.

Spread on 12 slices of cinnamon-raisin bread and top with remaining slices to make 12 sandwiches.

woman stirring tea in fancy cup and saucer

Peggy Griffin’s Raspberry Cordial Tea

3 c. fresh raspberries

1/3 c. lemon juice

12 c. boiling water

3 c. white sugar

1 2/3 c. cool water

Wash raspberries, and place them in a large bowl.

Squeeze lemons, then pour the juice through a strainer onto the raspberries.

Mix gently.

Boil 12 c. water in a large pot.

Stir sugar into boiling water until it dissolves.

Pour liquid onto raspberries.

Cover mixture and let steep in the refrigerator for 12 hours.

Take mixture from the fridge, and pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Use a potato masher to press the raspberries and extract as much of the juice as possible.

Add approximately 1 2/3 c. cool water to the raspberry mush to help extract natural flavors and colors.

Strain mixture until all pulp and seeds are removed.

Woman with elderly mother smiling

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Jillian Van Hefty

Jillian Van Hefty is a writer from small-town Minnesota where she lives with her husband, two sons, and emotional support Keurig. She is a 2022 winner of the A Hotel Room of One's Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program.

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