Losing Her Way
Posted September 1, 2007
Updated September 2, 2007
They called her "Sug," which was short for "Sugar." It was a nickname her father gave Mildred Rogers when she was a baby because she was so cute, and it stuck.
Even at 76 years old , Sug was an avid walker, sometimes walking miles a day in the scorching North Carolina summer heat. Nobody could talk her out of her long walks, not even her husband of 20 years, H.B. Rogers.
I spoke to H.B. Rogers last week after his wife had been missing for 72 hours. He told me about the little church they had attended faithfully for years in Henderson, even though they lived in Raleigh.
He told me how they met on a blind date in 1969 but wouldn't wed for 18 more years because they were trying to "erase doubts."
He described his wife as pretty and engaging – someone people enjoyed being around.
He said every night they had a routine of watching the news together and then of going out to dinner, usually at the K&W Cafeteria.
But it was what he didn't tell me that made me pause. I could see the pain in his eyes, the keen understanding that something terrible had happened to his wife.
You see, Sug had Alzheimer's. During one of her walks last weekend, she apparently got disoriented and ended up in a boggy, heavily wooded area off of Yonkers Road. That's where Raleigh police found her body Tuesday afternoon after an extensive search.
The question that many people immediately had was why was she permitted to walk alone? It's not an easy question to answer.
Her husband, who is 74 years old, said he tried to stop his wife, but short of physically restraining her, there was nothing he could do. It's a situation that probably occurs throughout the Triangle, throughout North Carolina, and throughout the country every day.
Clearly, people with Alzheimer's, not unlike precocious toddlers who are under the constant gaze of a parent, need someone watching over them – but when the only person is an elderly spouse who has his or her own limitations, don't others need to step in to help?
I don't pretend to have the answers on this one, but I know it's something many of us will face in our lifetimes as our parents get older, as we get older – and it's something we all need to think about.