In tough times it’s often the small things that make a big difference. An offer to pick up the kids from school; a sympathetic ear from a friend; a neighbour collecting your mail and putting out your bins… and a delicious, home-cooked meal put down in front of you.
Amongst the myriad of support offered by those who work in palliative care across the country, the significance of meal provision – both for those receiving care and their families – cannot be underestimated.
At Sydney’s Bear Cottage – meal time is about so much more than just food. It’s about connection and community and is just one of the many ways that staff deliver support and ease the pressure on those they care for.
Bear Cottage chef, Owen Wild, has been serving up meals to patients, families and staff since 2001 – commencing work in the kitchen just six months after the NSW children’s hospice facility first opened its doors [He left for a period, but has been back at Bear Cottage since 2013.]
With a 30 year strong career working in food service in hospitals, nursing homes and hotels, Owen said he knew straight away that Bear Cottage was something special.
“It’s humbling to be part of the team at Bear Cottage,” said Owen.
“I’ve made it my mission to cook family favourites and meals that I know everyone will enjoy – especially the children,” said Owen, who during the interview was preparing to serve up Shepherd’s Pie for the evening meal.
Mealtime at Bear Cottage is about as far as you can get from the “traditional” hospital setting. They have a big long table set up in the shared living space – bringing a little taste of home to the families.
“Sharing a meal together at our dining table is an important part of a family’s stay at Bear Cottage.”
“It’s like sitting at the table with your family. You see people start to relax and open up – and often just talk about normal, everyday things.”
“It provides an opportunity for everyone to get to know other children and families and to chat with staff and volunteers. It’s one of our favourite times of day and ensures that everyone feels right at home.”
Owen says they also offer the flexibility for families and patients to eat in their rooms if they wish – giving them the choice to do what works best for their family at the time.
Some Bear Cottage patients have very specific dietary requirements and the multidisciplinary team work closely together to ensure all nutritional needs are met.
Working alongside another chef and a team of volunteer helpers, Owen strives to bring a little extra love into the menu when he can – catering for special requests and occasions. Recently, he learned that a parent at Bear Cottage was celebrating a birthday and their favourite cake was a Black Forest Cake.
“So I thought… I’ll do my best… and I made a Black Forrest cake that day…they didn’t know it was coming, so it was a nice surprise. It does give you great satisfaction to go the extra mile for our families.”
Sometimes it might be a certain meal that has some cultural significance for a child and their family… just something to bring a little comfort and nurturing in a tough time.
“When most of your day is taken up worrying about your child, being involved in their care and wellbeing and, of course, also caring and worrying about your other family members and what’s going on at home… it’s a lot on your plate!” said Owen.
“By serving up meals and snacks that I know are nutritious and our families will all like… well I guess that’s like giving them one less thing to worry about and helps to relieve their stress. And that makes it feel very worthwhile…”
“If I know that I have taken just a little bit of pressure off a family – and see that they really appreciate it – well that’s very satisfying.”
“To see the families and kids happy and enjoying my food… it makes my day. I guess it makes me feel that in some small way I’ve done my part to help.
“It’s a very humbling experience to work at Bear Cottage and to be part of our patients and families’ lives.”
Bear Cottage provides support, respite and end of life care for children with life-limiting illnesses and their families. They care for children from across Australia, regardless of where they receive their primary care, although the majority of families that access the service are from NSW. The children who visit Bear Cottage will range from newborn infants to 19 years of age; however accommodation is also available for parents, as well as siblings, of the children staying. Learn more at bearcottage.org.au