The Bear Cottage bond

When children and families come to Bear Cottage, they expect that it will be an opportunity for some respite and a break from the everyday realities of living with, or caring for someone, with a life-limiting illness. This is, after all, what the hospice is for. What often takes families by surprise though is the lifelong connections they make – connections like Kamal and Gy’s. 

“When children and their families come to a paediatric hospice environment like Bear Cottage, we are able to provide a change of pace, to slow down and focus more on each child and family member and their individual needs, both medical and psychosocial, helping to create enjoyable memories and positive experiences and to achieve their personal goals,” says Gy.

Gy has been the Child Life Therapist at Bear Cottage for the last 13 years.

“I’ve been lucky to get to know Kamal over the last seven years, and it has been amazing watching him grow up and become an incredible young man.

When Kamal first came to Bear Cottage, he was very talkative and loved speeding around the corridors with the other kids and playing on the X-Box. He was always up for trying something new.

I remember not long after his first visit, Kamal showed interest in the spa and wanted to try it but was not confident to be in the water independently. So, we started with Kamal in the spa with me assisting and supporting him – building rapport and trust. - Gy

Over numerous sessions and many visits, Kamal is now confident enough to float and move around in the spa by himself, with my supervision and he loves it.”

Like most children, Kamal comes and stays at Bear Cottage for about a week at a time, several times over a year. During these visits, staff and volunteers have an opportunity to really get to know him.

“I was about 10 when I first came to Bear Cottage. At the time there were other kids in electric wheelchairs, and it was fun and chaotic. We got to do activities such as wheelchair art, visit the museum and play tag down the Bear Cottage hallway!”  

Kamal has four brothers and one sister and as has always had a very outgoing personality. While he lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, he hasn’t let that rule his life. 

“If I was asked to describe myself, I would say I’m good at video games and maths. I’m also very talkative and funny - I’m also very good at walking (hahahaha). I enjoy listening to music, going out with friends to the movies and shops – and I also like to collect cool hats!”

Kamal initially saw Bear Cottage as a place to relax and recharge but it quickly became a place where he found so much more. 

“I would describe Bear Cottage as a big mansion that is fun, and a cool holiday mixed into one.

A visit to Bear Cottage allows me to relax, rest, have fun and go on outings. I have also made new friends with other teens and we play X-Box together. 

What I like best about being at Bear Cottage though is being able to go out, play with the different animals, do arts and crafts and go in the spa with Gy.  

I enjoy just hanging out, chilling and not worrying about anything. - Kamal

Some of my favourite activities are the ones that we do on camp such as bowling, laser skirmish, going out on the ferry and just being with my friends. 

I love eating all the different foods the chefs make and my favourite meal would be chicken schnitzel with mashed potato and gravy or chicken and mushroom risotto.”

As Kamal has grown, his need to speed around Bear Cottage in his wheelchair has been replaced by his need for mature conversation and reflection.

“Despite all the challenges Kamal faces, he shows great resilience and bravery. He wakes every day at Bear Cottage with a chocolate milkshake by his side and speaks of plans to further his education and to become a person who contributes to society.”

“Our conversations are about what he can do, not what he can’t. Most importantly, he does all this with a smile on his face and his sense of humour continues to shine through,” says Gy.

Kamal and Gy’s bond is one of the many incredible connections formed between families and staff at Bear Cottage and highlights the difference individualised care makes when caring for children in both hospices and palliative care settings.

“The key is being fully present with each one of our children and families and being there to provide really specific support and encouragement when it’s needed.” - Gy

Saturday 9 October 2021 marks World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. Held annually, the day is an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the vital role of services like Bear Cottage.