What I Learned from People Who Can’t Remember

I arrived at the memory care unit of an up-scale assisted living facility in Nashville. My plan was to see a lovely student of mine perform a piano recital, playing classical pieces for the residents to enjoy. Unexpected weather caused a cancellation for the outdoor event, unbeknownst to me.

The worker at the front desk, unaware of any event at all, graciously allowed me to go through the security procedures, COVID screening, and other check-in routines, finally issuing me a visitor’s badge that allowed me to go through the always-locked doors meant to protect the vulnerable residents. Admittedly, I felt it was imprisonment more than protection, but I had not the time to contemplate this inner conflict of thought because I was going to be late for the performance.

Worming my way through locked doors with my magic key-badge, I was finally able to get to the right building. Or at least it seemed right because there was music being played. But it wasn’t a piano. Two volunteers were about to play the guitar and sing. The nurses and other workers wheeled their residents into the room while they chatted. The residents were talking, too, but not to each other. They were simply talking, mostly muttering. Were they hoping someone was listening?


Not all words were mumbles, though. One dear one was looking around the room, asking everyone, “Do you know me?” Everyone ignored her. I assumed she asked this question often. Maybe she was unsure if she knew the people around her. Maybe she wanted assurance one of the people she should remember was near, even if she personally couldn’t know for certain if the lady next to her was her daughter or her nurse. Maybe she wanted to feel known.

Then the murmuring ceased as the ladies began to play the tune of a very familiar hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Still waiting to see if I saw anyone who could help me understand why my student was not there playing the piano (I still had not been told it was canceled at this point,) I stayed to listen. Once the first line of the song was sung, “Oh, Lord, my God; When I in awesome wonder,” something changed.

Out of the silence, several of the muttering patients, including the one who wanted to know and be known, joined in song with jubilation. They were singing every word. These precious souls who could no longer remember how to care for themselves could sing to the God who created them. The completely average performers catapulted these residents and me to a place of supernatural reverence. Tears rolled down my cheeks. If I ever lost the ability to recognize my sons’ faces or remember my husband’s touch, would the song of my heart still be “HOW GREAT THOU ART”?


The truth is, we are a very forgetful people. The Bible warns us about the dangers of forgetfulness. We forget about God and His beauty and providence, and, as a result, we stop giving Him thanks. Then we are knee-deep in our idolatry until God is gracious enough to remind us who He is, fishing us out of our pit of thanklessness. Israel did this often. So do I.

I hope I never forget. I hope that if my body fails me, robbing me of the mind to remember, my heart’s song will be “Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, To Thee. How great Thou art. How great Thou art!”

Latest posts by Amy Lytle (see all)

Amy Lytle

Wife, mother, middle school teacher who wishes pajamas were fashionably acceptable, who speaks the language of sarcasm, and who imperfectly loves Jesus and her family (though she is perfectly loved.)

3 thoughts on “What I Learned from People Who Can’t Remember

  • November 25, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    Excellent piece. I’ve noticed similar things. It says something about making such music part of our lives years before we need it in this way.

  • November 26, 2022 at 12:48 am

    I never have anything terribly profound to say in response to pieces that move me, but I will just say that I love this, I love Amy, and I love hymns.

  • November 26, 2022 at 8:17 am

    Thank you, Amy, for thinking deeply, for caring strongly, and for sharing compellingly.


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