Nestled in the hills overlooking Manly Beach, on the north shore of Sydney, Australia, Bear Cottage is a respite for the families who must endure the slow, and often painful, loss of a child – due to a life-limiting disease.It’s a sad reality that more than 5,000 families in Australia have to face, every year, when doctors exhaust all options, and a terminal illness ultimately wins its fight against a child. Surprisingly, cancer is the cause in only a quarter of the cases, with rare, incurable diseases accounting for the remaining 75% of the palliative care cases that are eligible for a stay at this special retreat.Bear Cottage opened its doors on March 17th, 2001, for children and their families who want to live out the remaining days of a life cut short, with as much love, enjoyment and peace as possible. It’s a respite for families who are often overwhelmed by the intense medical attention that their child may require – some kids as young as a few weeks old, and other children living with a debilitating, systemic rare disease up to the age of 18. This past year alone, Bear Cottage has cared for more than 200 children and their families, providing a Zen environment, which nurtures every last precious moment of the child’s life.It’s a peaceful place, designed specifically to provide for all of the needs that a child faces during those final days. The house has an old Labrador named Frankie, several peaceful enclaves and sitting areas, as well as well-equipped rooms for relaxation, therapy and entertainment.
Bear Cottage is an independent division of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, where kids have their own “room” – a bedroom where no medical procedures are performed, which are customized with fun toys and comfy quilts, alongside an adjacent room for parents or siblings.
During our last visit to Australia, we toured the house, and learned about their procedures and the various accommodations that they provide to children and their families. The visit left a lasting impression on all of us, which was scheduled on a day when only two families were in the house during a full staff training seminar. The tour left all of us in tears, but feeling assured that a place like Bear Cottage exists to provide dignity and comfort to sick children and their families. It’s difficult to think about, but it’s a reality that befalls many families each year.
And, like most non-profits, this special place faces fundraising hurdles year after year, shockingly, without any subsidization from the government. Which is why we elected to donate the generous wedding gift funds that we received to Bear Cottage, though it amounted to only a tiny, but meaningful, portion of their annual AUS$3 million operating budget. (Overhead that, thankfully, does not include the cost of the facility itself, which was donated by the community in 2001, along with the land where the house was custom built.) Corporate sponsors, endowed foundations and generous citizens should all consider supporting this special place which is dedicated to an extra special mission.
For more information about Bear Cottage, or to make a donation, visit http://www.bearcottage.chw.edu.au/