Tea for two at McKenney Creek

Every Sunday Eunice Kirkness and Nancy Chung serve tea to the residents at McKenney Creek Hospice in Maple Ridge.

Nancy Chung (left) and Eunice Kirkness serve tea and treats at McKenney Creek Hospice in Maple Ridge every Sunday afternoon. The residence is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The electric kettle on the counter has come to a boil, and through the glass, water can be seen bubbling up and rolling over and over, while steam gently rises from the spout into the air.

Nancy Chung has learned over time to let the kettle boil. She warms up a blue ceramic teapot and covers it with a cozy of blue, yellow and white daisies.

“Rolling boil tea is supposed to taste better. It’s just one of those quaint old English things. It’s just what you have to do,” Eunice Kirkness explains in a charming British accent.

Kirkness has been serving tea at McKenney Creek Hospice Residence since it opened 10 years ago.

Chung has been helping her for the past four.

Every Sunday at 2:30 p.m., the ladies make the rounds at the hospice with their tea trolley. They serve tea to the 10 patients who reside there, along with any visitors who happen to be in the room. They also serve to the nursing staff and any doctors who stop by.

“The nurses always look forward to it. We even have some doctors who know the time at 2 o’clock,” said Kirkness.

“Especially the ones who trained in England because 2 o’clock was always tea time on the wards,” she laughs.

When the water has boiled, the kettle is turned off and the pot is filled to steep the tea.

The wooden cart sitting between the small corner kitchen and the games table in the room is filled to capacity.

Draped over the cart is a white decorative table linen. On top, there is a packed plate of goodies – chocolate chip toffee bars, macadamia nut and white chocolate cookies, lemon poppy seed loaf, and miniature cinnamon buns.

Gold-rimmed tea cups and saucers with dainty floral patterns fill the rest of the cart, leaving just enough space for the silver teapot and matching milk jug that Kirkness takes home once a month to polish. She only uses polish imported from England.

Chung pours the tea from one teapot to the next, making sure the tea is the right consistency.

“You know, she still keeps an eye on me sometimes,” Chung said of Kirkness, examining the colour of the tea, not too dark, not too light.

“Sometimes I see her casting her eye over,” Chung chuckles, adding that she has learned a lot about making a cup of English tea.

Another rule: put the milk in the cup first, then add the tea.

“That used to be years ago because they had China, so if you put the hot tea in the China it would break. But a lot of people don’t remember that,” said Kirkness.

Chung met Kirkness when she was a visiting volunteer at the hospice. Kirkness asked her to bake cookies for the tea service if she had time during her shift. Now Chung and Kirkness work together and have become close friends.

Chung starts at 1 p.m. every Sunday. She is in charge of baking. She bakes a couple of trays of cookies to go along with other donations.

Kirkness starts at 2 p.m. to get the tea ready.

“I know I can’t do it without her. When she goes on holiday and deserts me, I have to bake,” Kirkness said in a halting voice, joking that she used to have to ask a nurse how to turn on the oven, which has no knobs, only buttons.

With the trolley ready, the ladies first stop at the games table where a patient and two visitors are putting together a puzzle. Then the volunteers head down the hall to the nurses’ station to get a list of dietary restrictions for the patients.

As they walk past the front doors to the building, they stop in front of a group of three women on their way out. They offer them some tea that is, at first, politely turned down. However, with a little bit of coaxing, the older of the three women takes a seat and has a cup.

Monika Wemyss, a North Vancouver resident who is at the residence visiting her father with her mother and daughter, examines the pastries before joining her mother.

“It kind of brings you a little bit of a peace. To take a deep breath and relax a bit before you head out and do what you need to do,” she said, sipping her tea.

Even the patterns on the China cups can bring comfort to patients and visitors.

“I find a lot of the older people appreciate it because they say, ‘Oh, that was my pattern,” said Kirkness.

“When I came to Canada in 1959, it was tradition – if you had a birthday, people would bring you a cup and saucer, you know, just a different pattern,” she explained.

“I thought, ‘These poor people, they can’t afford a full place setting.’ I didn’t realize this was tradition. That’s why a lot of them of my generation, they recognize some of the patterns that they had and it’s quite meaningful to them.”

At the end of the service, the ladies head back to the kitchen, where they take a moment to relax before cleaning up.

Often visitors will stop by their table and join in the conversation.

“If they’ve been here for a while, they know when we’re finished and having a little chit-chat. They often would come out here and just unburden themselves,” said Kirkness.

She believes that what they do is more for the visitors than the patients.

“How can you relax when you are watching your loved one in the dying process,” she asks.

“The tea seems to break up the atmosphere somehow. Even if the person who is dying doesn’t seem to be aware, I think they feel the lightness of the time, sort of thing, knowing that their family is just enjoying themselves for a little while.

Chung likes to think that they bring some pleasure and comfort to people.

After watching her father pass away in the acute care ward at Vancouver General Hospital, she knew that wanted to do something like this for other people.

“It was a very lonely experience being with him there. So it would have been really nice to have somebody come in and to have somebody offer me a drink,” explained Chung.

She remembers feeling grateful to her in-laws who came in to visit and brought her juice from the machine.

“I felt so grateful to them. Just to have another person there in the room. And your throat just gets so dry. It’s not that I was thirsty, but I think you are all tight there. So it was nice just to have a drink.”

Kirkness adds that they never leave the hospice without someone thanking them.

“Not many people in their jobs get thanked when they do something. It’s rewarding.”

Cleanup usually takes until 4:30 p.m. because the cups and saucers must all be washed with water and bleach. They can’t be put in the dish washer due to the gold rims.

But before Kirkness and Chung can start, some visitors come into the kitchen.

“It was so beautifully served,” said a woman who was in visiting her sister.

“They are like little angels.”

Anniversary party

The McKenney Creek Hospice Residence opened on Oct. 17, 2006.

The residence provides a home-like setting during a person’s end-of-life journey.

The 10th anniversary celebration will take place Oct. 12 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., with a short formal welcoming with speeches at 3 p.m. on the Baillie House patio, on Laity Street at the Ridge Meadows Hospital.

There will be live music, free cupcakes, refreshments, hot dogs and a gift bag.

• For more information, visit ridgemeadowshospicesociety.com.

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