Bear Cottage from a dad's perspective

Bear Cottage from a dad's perspective

Bowen's dad and sister with bicycles

"It’s been seven years since our son Bowen passed away. He has been gone for as long as he was here with us. I’m not sure how that makes me feel. I’m much better now than what I was seven years ago, but that’s not saying much because I was a bit like a zombie back then. 

Our four-year-old son Bowen was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma at the end of 2015. By early 2017, shortly after his 6th birthday, we were introduced to the Bear Cottage family for Bowen’s end of life care.  

It had been a whirlwind 18 months and throughout the treatment Bowen had continued on with life as any regular child but with all treatment options exhausted, Bowen's condition deteriorated quickly in front of our eyes.

Bowen smiling at the camera

Being at Bear Cottage was a blur. Days were spent trying to hold it together and focus on being parents to Bowen and our then four-year-old daughter Jessie. Trying to keep busy and ever optimistic and trying at all costs not to think too far ahead as it scared the hell out of us. I also felt guilty to think about a future without my son around, especially when I’m sat next to him on the bed playing him in a game of cards.

Bear Cottage for Jessie was like one big party. She didn’t know what was going on and all she could see was an endless supply of art supplies, a constantly changing supply of new friends, and a stream of fun activities to do.

 Bowen was also able to enjoy Bear Cottage. He especially loved the resident dog, Frankie, who would jump up on his bed and lay with him. He also loved the Bear Cottage chef who would cook him whatever he asked for. This was more often than not bacon!  

Bowen did ask when we were going home but he never once asked me why he was at Bear Cottage or what was happening to him which I am forever grateful for.

At Bear Cottage, all the doctors, nurses and volunteers were calm and  kind to the point that it gave me a sense of “we are in this together.” To me the team at Bear Cottage were all about making things as easy as possible so that families like ours could spend as much time with our loved ones and create experiences and memories.

 The Bear Cottage team would also create many of these experiences. At the time you are not thinking that these will be the last experiences you will have with your child but the team at Bear Cottage know that they are, and for that reason they want to do everything they can for you.

One of these experiences involved memory making which involved painting Bowen's hands, and using his handprints to create some art. At first Bowen didn’t want his hands painted, but with some gentle encouragement he soon changed his mind. The prints were put down so that Art Therapist, Judy, was able to work her magic and the art was made. 

At the time I don’t think I paid too much attention to the process. I kind of had an idea why the art was being made and I thought it was a cool idea, but at the same time I didn’t want to think about how I might appreciate these prints in the future as the future was a scary thought to have.  

Stickers created with Bowen's handprints

Twelve months after leaving Bear Cottage my brother-in-law came around with two sheets of stickers made from two of the artworks that had been made with Bowen's handprints. The stickers were round and 75mm in diameter and one incorporated Bowen's hands into the wings of a flying bird and the other one was more like a person or an angel. All I could think about was how I was going to put one on my bike.  

Bowen's sticker on his dad's bike

I went through some pretty dark times after Bowen died, and developed some pretty unhealthy methods for coping, but cycling became a healthy focus for me. Bowen loved bike riding and now with his sticker on the frame of my bike I felt like he could be there with me whenever I rode.  

Fast forward further and I’d decided I’d ride a 24 hour solo mountain bike event where you ride a 10km forest loop for 24 hours. For part of my preparation, I had a banner made with Bowen’s artwork, which I was able to hang in the transition zone. Seeing this artwork every lap drove me, motivated me and gave me strength to continue. I felt like my boy was there with me and he was making it easier for me and this helped me to get through and complete the event.  

The art that was created that day has been so special for me and I am really grateful for what all of the staff did for us at Bear Cottage. 

You hope that you never have to go there but when you do, you are so thankful that you have them there with you, guiding you, helping you, and understanding you. I’m forever grateful."

-Bryn, Bowen's dad