Into the Woods: A Daughter Copes with Her Mother's Alzheimer’s

Her mother loved to take long walks—until her mind began to fail and she couldn’t find her way. Here, a determined daughter tells how she battled the darkness

by Nancy Evans
woods image
Photograph: James Leighton/Gallerystock.Com

We got her to the entrance of the trail, where I’d moved a rock out of the way because I knew she wouldn’t be able to step over it. The invasive barberry had been hacked back. We walked a few feet in. Look at the sign, we said. “Charlotte Burr Evans Walking Trail,” she read out loud. “For me,” she said. My sister took a picture of my mother flanked by my brother and me. She was smiling broadly by the sign, standing proudly with her kids.

With my brother and me supporting her, she made it as far as the first bench. I’d put in so many benches along the trail, knowing she would need to rest, that it looked like a furniture factory. So my mother and I sat on the bench. She said it was beautiful here in the woods. I agreed that it was. She turned to me. “You didn’t just do this for me, did you?” She had the look I remember from when I was a kid, when she was teaching me a lesson. “You did it for you, too.” She was right about that. I had done it for me, too. I’d wanted her to be the mother I’d known, the woman who walked straight and tall and fast. I thought if I created a safe place for her, she would continue to be that person. She would keep walking, maybe a little more slowly, but still doing the thing that had given her so much pleasure her entire life. Now I realized she’d never be that woman again. She said she was tired. We walked back to the house. She took a nap.

That was the last time she saw the trail. Pretty soon she was napping through the day. She continued to pick at her food. She kept looking for my father, who she was sure was in the driveway. She wanted to know where her dog was. But you don’t have a dog, I said. Of course I do, she told me. And where, she asked, was my younger sister? I told her I didn’t know because I didn’t have one. Of course you do, she said. Her name is Nancy. But I’m Nancy, I said. Two weeks after we opened the trail, we took my mother to a place for people with Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know what else to do.

When I walk the trail by myself these days, I often think about her. She uses a walker now, and as her memory goes, she sometimes fails to remember how to put one foot in front of the other. But I know that she saw, really saw, the gift we had made for her. And I like to think that in her dreams she is still walking, straight and tall and fast like the woman she used to be. The path she’s on is the Charlotte Burr Evans Walking Trail. She is heading home.

NANCY EVANS is finishing a book titled A Year in the Country, about learning to calm down after 40 years of working nonstop in the city. Her last piece in More was about finally learning how to cook.

Click here for a past Attitude piece on living together as a blended familiy.

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First published in the September 2012 issue

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