The hospice for terminally ill children, one of only two in Australia, has been our only holiday destination since Aidan’s diagnosis, providing a chance for us to recharge our batteries and reconnect as a family.
The home has received much attention in recent weeks due to the royal visit by Prince William and Princess Catherine (which we missed by two days) and my big hope is that the media attention will highlight the importance of these special places for families like ours.
To describe Bear Cottage to someone who has never stayed there is almost impossible. Its proximity to one of Australia’s most iconic beaches makes it a perfect holiday destination and respite place for terminally ill children and their families, and the spectacular views are idyllic for those children living out their last days here on earth. But it is not sad and depressing as one might expect. I can’t really put my finger on it, there’s just something magical about the place. The homelike atmosphere embraces you like a warm hug from a long lost friend. It’s a place where for a week Anthony and I can forget about playing the role of doctor or nurse and focus on being the kind of parents we want to be – attentive, relaxed and patient. It’s a place where I can leave the crazy lady who screams at Aidan to get dressed for school, the one whinging about cleaning up the toys and moaning about the washing, at the door.
Most importantly, it’s the place where memories are made. I’m not talking about the spectacular memories that come with meeting celebrities and going to major events (an added bonus of having a sick child). I’m talking about the kind of memories that you know you’ll cherish forever. Simple things like all four of us cuddling in bed in the morning, playing board games in the lounge room, or sitting with Aidan to colour. While this visit was a little less relaxing thanks to the increased needs of Ollie, I know our first holiday as a family of four will stay etched in my mind forever.
Having not visited for a year it was also great to see how much Aidan has progressed since starting school and becoming a big brother. I was in awe of how well he interacted with the other children and staff and, for the first time, he was able to truly enjoy the planned activities like cooking pizza, music therapy and crafts. He even made his very first sandcastle, a truly big achievement for a child who is sensitive to textures.
I know that my return to work in the coming months will make it difficult to slot in another visit this year but I know I’ll get back there eventually and I can’t wait.