Crowborough mum Suzi Mitchell has just returned from a daunting trek along one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks – the Great Wall of China.
But this was no ordinary sightseeing trip, it was to commemorate five years since the passing of her son, Taylor, who died aged just 15 after battling with Neurofibromatosis type 2.
The 32-mile trek meant she could fulfil one of his dreams, while also raising funds for the charity she later launched in his name, Taylor-Made Dreams.
“When I wrote out Taylor’s bucket list with him, two years before he passed away, I didn’t expect to hear ‘I want to ride a motorbike on The Great Wall of China,’ she told the Times.
“I knew he was ambitious, but really? From a mother’s point of view, as you can imagine, I was a tad worried about how I was going to make this dream come true.”
Walking predominantly along the unrestored part of the Great Wall, Suzi hiked around nine hours each day for five days, much of it up and down hills. Towards the end of the trip, she found herself in a watchtower with 24 windows on one of the oldest sections of the wall:
“There was something beautiful and spiritual about it. I decided then this would be the place that I would scatter some of his ashes.
“It was painful, but beautiful as well, to achieve one of Taylor’s dreams on his behalf. I felt like it was a fitting place for him to lay.”
And fulfilling one of Taylor’s wishes has allowed Suzi to continue making other children’s dreams a reality. She is hoping to raise £5,000 for her charity.
Based in Crowborough, Suzi, along with a team of volunteers, works with children coping with life-limiting illnesses to give them a chance to realise their most cherished experiences. She works in partnership with six organisations, who refer children who they think she can help.
And after just two years, the charity is completing the bucket list for its 23rd child.
“When I first meet the child, I explain to them exactly what we do as a charity, to enable them to fulfil their dreams,” explained Suzi.
“I ask them to brainstorm and think what they would like on their bucket list: Where they want to go, who they would like to meet, and what would they like to own.”
Once the team agree what is achievable on the list, they get to work on making it happen.
So far the charity has organised 16 holidays, as well as six celebrity meet-ups.
Recent wishes have included a pair of football-mad boys who managed to meet the Manchester United football squad, as well as a comedy fan who got to meet his favourite actor, Rob Brydon.
Suzi is able to provide the family with transportation to these events in a seven-seat wheelchair-accessible vehicle that was donated by Blades Joinery.
The charity also offers holistic care for the whole family, with counselling schemes for parents and siblings. This is provided by fourth-year students from the Wealden Psychology Institute, who are able to complete a work placement.
Taylor and Suzi watched the film ‘The Bucket List’ together, and both were inspired to take action.
He decided to make his very own list, and she decided that, in the future, she was going to help other children live out theirs.
Two friends, Julie Little and Trudy Yardley, heard about his list and began a fundraising campaign entitled Taylor’s Bucket of Wishes.
Taylor-Made Dreams was born from the £250 that remained in the Bucket of Wishes fund after Taylor’s passing.
Suzi gave £50 to four charities which had supported the family, while Taylor was ill, and started the charity with the last £50:
“I wanted to turn something so tragic into a beautiful legacy, where Taylor’s life would carry on in a beautiful way by creating smiles in the eyes of other children. And I see that with every child I work with. It’s a great source of healing for me to do the work that I do.
“When I meet the children, I’m not sad because the children I meet are just so full of life. They are amazing in the way they are able to cope with what they’re dealing with.”
From operating the charity at her dining room table, Suzi and Taylor-Made Dreams have come a long way in two years, something she attributes to ‘the wonderful volunteers on board, who are just as passionate as I am’.
Although, for Suzi, there is a long way to go: “We are a small seed of a charity in its infancy, and it is difficult.
I’m grateful for every penny that comes to us, which is all from local community support.
“The long-term vision is to have the Taylor-Made Dream Therapy Centre – which would be the hub of the charity – offering services to the children who are referred to us, along with their families.
“We also have the further ambition of offering bereavement counselling to the whole local community.”