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'We all end up crying': Couple at seniors' home celebrates 64th anniversary virtually with family

Family couldn't attend the celebration because Avens — A Community for Seniors is on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Avens — A Community for Seniors in Yellowknife is on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Betty and Gavin Hollas at Avens - A Community for Seniors in Yellowknife, which is not currently allowing visitors in an effort to protect residents against COVID-19. The couple recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary with family over FaceTime. (Submitted by Susan Mercredi)

There was cake, Frank Sinatra ballads and family — all the key ingredients for celebrating 64 years of marriage.

But for Gavin and Betty Hollas of Yellowknife, both of whom are in their 80s, this party happened over the video chat app FaceTime, while their seniors' home was on lockdown.

Avens – A Community for Seniors in Yellowknife hasn't allowed visitors in since March 17, in an effort to keep COVID-19 out.

Avens says there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the facility.

'I was holding back ... tears'

Staff helped the couple mark their special day on March 30 by connecting them with relatives via FaceTime.

"It just hit me like a tonne of bricks when I saw what they had done," said Cailey Mercredi, one of the Hollas's granddaughters.

"I was holding back just tears," she said, while describing the image that appeared on her computer screen.

Mercredi said the family had sent over baked goods, presents and flowers. They were dropped off in a controlled area at Avens.

Staff dressed the couple in their favourite clothing, set them up in a private room and surrounded them with gifts, cake and yellow tulips.

Staff dressed the couple in their favourite clothing, set them up in a private room and surrounded them with gifts, cake and yellow tulips. (Submitted by Susan Mercredi)

Each family member spent 30 minutes on FaceTime celebrating with them. 

"The fact that I could see my grandpa take a bite of the bannock and hear his little moans and groans about how delicious it is, and see his eye open widely as he's looking at all of the banana chocolate chip cookies, like, it was just something that we weren't expecting," said Mercredi.

"It really made the anniversary so special."

Couple met as teenagers

Gavin and Betty met as teenagers at a dance in Scotland.

They immigrated to Canada and eventually moved to Yellowknife to be closer to their daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The family describes their love as magnetic, even after all these years.

Gavin wrote poems to Betty on every holiday and anniversary, even after his penmanship started to decline.

Gavin and Betty Hollas met as teenagers at a dance in Scotland. They recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary. (Submitted by Susan Mercredi)

"When they went to bed every night, they would hold hands," said Susan Mercredi, the Hollas's daughter. She said her parents would do the same today if they shared the same room. 

At Avens, the husband and wife are neighbours — each in a private room — at the territory's dementia centre.

When Avens gave families notice that the facility was going on lockdown to safeguard seniors and staff, Susan said she was glad because it meant her parents were being protected.

"I didn't feel sad that we weren't together," she said, adding the family always gets together for special occasions. 

A virtual gathering

This was their first virtual family gathering. 

"I just wish that I could give them hugs and kisses, but blowing kisses is now the new thing. So, yeah, I'll take it," said Lauren Couvrette, another of the Hollas's granddaughters.

"I am very, very happy that we were able to celebrate their milestone."

WATCH: Granddaughter describes 'holding back ... tears' at Gavin and Betty Hollas​​​​​​'s virtual anniversary party

Cailey Mercredi and other family members of Gavin and Betty Hollas describe what it was like to FaceTime chat with the couple on their 64th wedding anniversary. The couple are residents of a Yellowknife care home currently in lockdown because of COVID-19. 1:12

The gathering was also emotional for staff members like Carol Norwegian, who decorated the cake the family had prepared.

"The love that I felt with the two of them, just sitting there holding hands … we all end up crying," she said.

Susan said her parents would have said "thank you" if they could. 

Both aren't as verbal as they once were.

But when a Frank Sinatra song came on, Gavin began singing.

"You can just feel the appreciation and gratitude," said Susan, watching her father and mother during their celebration.

"I know the relationship that they have with the Avens team, that they would have just been in their glory that day — in between several naps, of course."

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