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A place to make memories

Bear Cottage's new Garden of Remembrance features a custom made Australian bronze sculpture symbolising the children who have called the hospice home.

NSW’s only children’s hospice, Bear Cottage will unveil a Garden of Remembrance as part of National Palliative Care Week 2019, creating a dedicated place of love and solace to remember the children who won’t return.

As you walk down the short path to Bear Cottage on Sydney’s Northern Beaches there’s no plaques, official looking signage, barriers or sliding doors leading to waiting rooms… just the smell of the ocean and the sound of the birds. In fact, there’s none of the usual hallmarks of hospital or health facility entry way.

Right from the start of the Bear Cottage experience it is abundantly clear that Bear Cottage is a sanctuary. A place of life, love, healing, hope, sometimes sadness and importantly, a place to make memories.

“We’ve never had plaques at Bear Cottage – because it’s always been a home environment,” said Bear Cottage Nurse Unit Manager, Narelle Martin, who has worked at the children’s hospice since it opened its doors in March 2001.

“Bear Cottage is essentially a home by the sea for our patients and their families – many of whom have been coming here for many years. We say that once you walk through the doors you are part of the Bear Cottage family forever.

“We do everything we can to be as far from a ‘hospital’ as possible, whilst still being set up to provide excellence in paediatric palliative care 24 hours a day, and our affiliation to The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network means we have access to some of the best medical resources in the world.”

Each year more than 500 families rely on Bear Cottage for psychosocial support, respite care, symptom management, end-of-life care and bereavement support.

For those who return many times throughout the course of their young lives, Bear Cottage is a place to make memories and take a break from Hospital life. But, there are of course children who don’t return.

This Thursday, Bear Cottage will unveil its new Garden of Remembrance – a place of love and serenity to remember those children who have lived and died at Bear Cottage. Bereaved Bear Cottage families will join staff and volunteers for this special event.

The focal point of the garden is a custom made Australian bronze statue of two children – a young boy holding a teddy bear and an older girl with a butterfly gently resting in her hand. The Statue was commissioned from a local artist, thanks to a generous donors – two of whom were Bear Cottage families.

“After 18 years we felt it was the right time to have something to symbolise and remember the children who have been to Bear Cottage over the years.  A place that families, staff, volunteers and other children can come, sit, reflect and remember.

“When a child who has spent time at Bear Cottage dies it is incredibly hard time for the bereaved families. A huge void is also left in the hearts of the staff, our other patients and their families. “

Narelle says that some bereaved families find great solace in coming back to Bear Cottage almost immediately and take comfort in regular visits back to see staff and other “Bear Cottage regulars” and by being involved with their dedicated Bereavement program.

Others just aren’t ready and won’t return for many years.

“You can’t put a timeline on grief and bereavement – and we don’t,” said Narelle.

“Every family and every individual grieves differently. Their reactions to death are as diverse as they are – and it’s important to respect that. It’s important that families also know that we are here for them when they are ready… that they aren’t suddenly cut off and left to fend for themselves.

Narelle recounts the story of a Dad who a few years back knocked on their door randomly.

“His daughter was actually the first child to die at Bear Cottage back in 2001. He hadn’t been here since, but one day he just showed up, and came in to reconnect, walk around and remember his daughter.”

“Now with our Garden of Remembrance we have a special place for all members of the Bear Cottage family to spend time and reflect on their memories. I’ve no doubt it will become a much loved part of Bear Cottage.”

Bear Cottage wishes to thank the donors who have provided support and assistance to create the Garden of Remembrance.

For more information about Bear Cottage visit www.bearcottage.org.au

National Palliative Care Week runs from 19 – 25 May 2019


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