'Familes on the Brink:' Caring for Elderly, Ailing Parents

Taking responsibility for aging mom and dad can be tough; communication is key.

ByABC News
February 3, 2010, 5:29 AM

Feb. 3, 2011— -- For 50 years, small-business executive JR Gardner was a steady presence in his family and a pillar of strength to his six children as they grew up in Atlanta.

"Dad would call every child, every week, every weekend. Every Saturday we knew we would get the call from Dad," said daughter Amy Monroe with a laugh.

She said JR Gardner was a proud man, very eloquent and the epitome of class.

But last summer, at the age of 82, he suffered a stroke and lost his mobility, his memory and his independence.

"He couldn't live independently any longer," Monroe said. "Our lives turned upside down on July 5."

Click here for full coverage from our eldercare series, "Families on the Brink: What to do about Mom and Dad?"

"We're all at Amy's house for the Fourth of July," sister Beth Dilworth said. "A big family celebration that she has every year. All of a sudden we get a phone call that my father and his wife had moved to Palm Springs [California] and in the middle of the night he fell and couldn't get up. ... They took him to the hospital, they diagnosed it as a stroke."

Because their parents were divorced, the six Gardner siblings realized they had to figure out what to do with their father.

"We were going 90 miles an hour -- Amy and [sister] Ann [Muennich] in California taking care of Dad. [Brother] J.P. [Gardner] and I are checking out facilities in Atlanta. We're calling my sister in Mississippi, trying to touch base with her and my elder brother. 'How are we going to pay for this?'" said Dilworth.

Because most of them lived in Atlanta, the siblings moved their father from California to an assisted living facility near them. Soon after that, their mother, Virginia Gardner, 82, was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed help as well. The kids made a tough call -- have their mom sell her house and live with one of them for a few months at a time.

Gardner herself was a caregiver earlier in life, helping to pay for care for her own mother after she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Gardner said it was different to have the tables turned, to be accepting care from her own children..

"I'm sorry I don't have the resources that I could care for myself completely. I've been working but when I got cancer, I couldn't work because I got too tired," she said.