by Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer
Over a year ago, Steve Herzfeld took a fearless
leap of caregiving faith when he moved to India with his parents.
Mom’s Parkinson’s disease was on a roll and Dad’s Alzheimer’s
provided its own challenges.
Steve’s caregiving journey began when he moved
in temporarily to help his parents out after Mom’s broken hip.
“Temporary” became redefined in caregiver terms when his visit
stretched to three years. While considering options limited to
nursing homes with gargantuan fees (over $3,000 monthly) and
questionable care, a longtime friend suggested an international leap
of faith—a move to India.
With help from his friend and colleague,
arrangements were made to make the move to Pondicherry, on India’s
southern coast. With its French colonial influences, it includes
English and French among languages spoken. Dad, brought up in
Switzerland, could communicate in both languages; an added bonus to
exercise his mind.
No stranger to India, Steve’s work with
Transcendental Meditation ( TM ) had taken him to India previously.
Those five years in India were instrumental in helping him make the
Although he’s referred to the initial weeks of
settling in as “chaotic,” the benefits of care abroad quickly
mounted. Massage therapy, 24/7 help with meals, bathroom trips and
incidentals were far less costly than in the States. Back in the
US, one half of the care would have broken everyone financially,
with Medicaid as a final resort. Yet, half a world away, there was
money left over for general savings.
While family may consider India another planet,
Steve’s caregiving journey has taught him to live within many
realities. Dad’s Alzheimer’s provides its own version of time
travel, for example. Yet, in this “other world,” there are people
and places that have brought the family a level of closeness that
only improves health and well-being.
His parents’ lives and health, enriched by a new
environment and diet, were just the beginning. The staff added
their own compassionate care to give his aging parents’ support and
Today, Steve and Dad stay on in Pondicherry, but
things have changed. During the summer of 2007, Mom passed away in
her sleep. The care she received with such devotion could only have
helped with the peaceful transition.
Dad’s Alzheimer’s has affected the healing time
and Steve has fearlessly adapted to it. “Dad’s Alzheimer’s has
created a situation where he can’t remember that she passed away.
Many times each day he begins looking for her.” Steve’s creative
solution was to print a few pages from Mom’s traditional Jewish
burial at Mumbai’s active synagogue. This method allows Dad to
experience the reality of the event and be comforted that their
wishes for a traditional funeral were met.
Since Dad wanted to be buried next to his
beloved, arrangements were made for the future. “He jokes that he’s
among the elite in India who own real estate in Mumbai.”
These days, the pace has slowed. The cook and
the night help have stayed on, and the massage therapist who helped
Mom so much has become Dad’s full-time assistant.
Dad may no longer travel due to ailments other
than the Alzheimer’s, but he reads the paper between visits with
those who drop in. There is cable TV to keep him oriented to the
world outside of Pondicherry.
A part-time job with a friend’s company allows
Steve to work at home. He does notice a decline in Dad’s energy
levels, which is not uncommon when a spouse passes. However, Dad is
93. In these elder years, which might have been spent in a nursing
home in the States, he has a better quality of life in India.
While Steve mentions that the current situation
is “lonely but manageable,” he does so with the mentality of a
fearless caregiver. No situation is perfect every minute of every
day. He credits caregiver mentor Gary Barg and his own continued
work with Transcendental Meditation as two guiding forces in
maintaining his stability. What Steve modestly does not mention is
that Gary and Transcendental Meditation have only brought out in him
the qualities of every fearless caregiver. They are the ability to
welcome the current reality with peace from within; changing only
what can be changed.