Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

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.


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  • CestLaVie Sep 4, 2007

    Sandhill has the best reply here, in my opinion; the others' replies are sympathetic, but are not realistic with Alzheimers' disease. Like toddlers, you just don't let them do what they want to do because you are NOT dealing with a normal-thinking person.

    Like Sandhill, I know; my mother had Alzheimers & my father suffered greatly for her daily care. This lady should have never been allowed out of the house on her own; if the husband couldn't go any more with her, then she should have been stopped. Just letting her go to be "healthy" and keep her "solace" and "doing what she loved" cost her her life. I have not read any further reports since this happened, but I hope foul play was not involved. That factor would make this nightmare even worse.

    Would Mr. Rogers feel any better if "Sug" was in a nursing home being cared for or letting her go for her walk and die this way? I'm sorry, but I prefer care in a home, to the very end. I'd feel I did my best for her safety.

  • thewayitis Sep 3, 2007

    She died doing what she loved. I think it is much better to die that way, doing what you love, than to live for many more years, perhaps retrained, but bored to tears. Ask an old person what they fear the most? Many will tell you being locked up in an old age home, dependent, and being forced to give up all of their personal freedom. What kind of a life is that?

  • houdie1031 Sep 3, 2007

    Thanks, Amanda, for writing about these real life struggles. Sometimes there is no "right" answer available. There is no blame to be placed in this situation. I'm sure Mrs Rogers' walking kept her healthy and gave her solace.

  • this is my Screen Name Sep 3, 2007

    Such a sad story. I'm so sorry for your loss, Mr. Rogers.

  • Shagger Sep 3, 2007

    I feel so sorry for the husband and the children. I am praying for you all! I beleive that the reason there wwas not someone to help was because of the cost. Most insurance companies don't cover extra help, and health care services are not available to people of a certain income even though they can not afford to pay for these services themselves. It is very sad that there is not more help for all of our elderly and/or disabled citizens. Maybe volunteers froma church might be the answer even then we all have to be careful becuase of the way society has changed.

  • Nana Sep 2, 2007

    It is sad, and may God help us that are getting older to have someone step in when necessary. Mr. Rogers, I pray God will ease your pain of loosing Sug. May she rest in peace.


  • SANDHILL Sep 2, 2007

    This is very sad and I have been there. Summer before last we, my wife and I, walked 6 miles one day and every day particularly in the evening she insisted she was going to walk home. In her mind it was just down the road, but it is 175 miles. She would become violent if I tried to prevent her going but she allowed me to walk with her. I installed dead bolts that require a key to get in or out which is a great help. Trying to use reason with an Alzheimers patient is impossible.

  • Gottalovemy4dogs Sep 2, 2007

    It's heartbreaking. The elderly do not want to be treated like children but unfortunately it seems that some must. I just hope people do it as respectfully as they can and allow the older person to keep their dignity.

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WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.