real life

Barry and Mary will spend their 61st Valentine's Day together, thanks to their special home.

He was a Qantas captain and she was a Trans Australia Airlines air hostess. They met, they fell in love, and they vowed to stick together in sickness and in health.

They started a family, raising three sons and daughter, and spent many happy years together in the family home.

Now 61 years later Barry Ellis, 86, has suffered a stroke and has difficulty speaking, while his wife Mary, 89, has dementia. Both have limited mobility.

But rather than being separated in their twilight years, Barry and Mary have been able to continue their love story, thanks to an experimental aged care facility.

Barry and Mary have continued their love story. Image supplied.

Two months ago Barry and Mary moved into a Group Homes Australia facility. At GHA couples can live together and receive customised support. They can choose whether they share a room or have separate rooms. They can experience nights of uninterrupted sleep knowing that their partner is being cared for. And most importantly, they can enjoy being a spouse again, rather than a carer.

Tamar Krebs, CEO and Founder of Group Homes Australia, doesn't believe in separating couples during the most vulnerable stage of their life.

"If we live our entire life in a community surrounded by our partners and families then why at a person’s most vulnerable point in their life do take them away from their loved one, their familiar suburb and why do we focus on their disability?" she said.

GHA has been offering this service since they opened their doors four and a half years ago.

"Dad really wanted to do the right thing by Mum. It's all about taking care of Mum." Image supplied.

"When we first opened we had a couple where the wife was healthy but the husband was dying from cancer. They lived together and he got to have a beautiful end of life journey," Krebs said.


"When he passed away, she laid in the bed with him and whispered 'Take me with you', she ended up living for a little while longer."

It was Barry and Mary's daughter, who works as a trainer in aged care, who found out about GHA and encouraged her parents to make the move.

The couple's son, Dooley Ellis, explained to Mamamia that they had tried out a lot of different facilities.

"Dad really wanted to do the right thing by Mum. It's all about taking care of Mum," he said.

Although there have been ups and downs since the move, Mary and Barry are settling into their new home.

"It's been great because we've been able to spend more time really engaging with them," Ellis said.

"Mum used to be a really great piano teacher and now I can jump on the piano and get Mum re-engaged with another one of her great loves."

Mary and Barry are settling into their new home. Image supplied.

Dooley says that rather than rushing to the family home every day to care for their parents, he and his siblings are able to visit them a couple of times a week and spend some quality time with them.

And Krebs agrees, it's the quality of life that makes the difference.

"Couples can take back control over their relationship. They can reclaim their intimacy and enjoy spending time with each other. They can share a kiss goodnight, eat breakfast together, go out for a coffee, go for a walk together or simply enjoy a cuddle."

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As for Mary, on Valentine's Day, she says it's all about her "love for my husband and family."