With dementia, it's important to continue doing things you know how to do ... so Patricia Dier so wonderfully continues to play her piano.

Patricia Dier has lived in many places — Anchorage, Alaska; Everett, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Fort Walton Beach — though none she can truly recall.

It’s a sunny, humid afternoon in Santa Rosa Beach, where Patricia lives in a home she and her late husband, B.J. Dier Jr., had built to retire in. Mature oak trees engulfed in Spanish moss shade and isolate the house from others around it.

Patricia, 92, is nothing but smiles, joyful as she pets her companion dog, Lexi.

Patricia’s memory is, “Gone, gone, gone,” as she puts it matter of factly; it faded away in the past 15 years. But, when she sits down at her Chickering & Sons upright piano, it’s as if no memory eludes her.

Every Sunday, Patricia plays traditional hymns on the piano at Bluewater Community Church in Niceville, where she has attended and played for the past 20 years.

Andrew Dier, Patricia’s son, admits she’s “a little rusty,” but the small congregation doesn’t mind when Patricia misses a note or two or rests her foot on a pedal a tad too long.

“It’s incredible,” Andrew says. “We take it for granted, ‘Oh, she just plays piano. Put her on the piano bench and she’ll do her thing.' When we were thinking about it, she’s been playing in churches for 70 years, churches all over the place, wherever my dad was.”

When Patricia’s five children conjure up images of their childhood, a common one is their mother playing piano next to their father in the pulpit. B.J. was a minister and chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, so his ministry and her musical ability were a “two-for-one deal,” Andrew says.

When asked her name, Patricia grins and says, “Mother.” She remembers her name but identifies herself as the mother of five children — Andrew Dier, William Dier, Joe Dier, Mary Hauth and Rebecca Hart.

Patricia’s story erases while it’s being written, but her children piece it together through old photos, memories and the music notes that compose her favorite hymns.

Always there

If a church or chapel needed music, there was no question; Patricia was there, Rebecca said.

Her fingers have graced piano keys around the world — Canada; Germany; Okinawa, Japan — and locally at Village Baptist Church in Destin, Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field, Destin United Methodist Church and Bluewater Baptist Church. The Dier family frequently moved to different military bases.

B.J. retired from Hurlburt Field in 1976 and died in 2005.

Rebecca fondly remembers watching her parents in church.

“My dad always used to say when he was preaching at a church that they would really hire mom, and then the preacher would come incidentally,” Rebecca said with a laugh.

When they lived in Fort Walton Beach, the two were so in demand on Sundays, they would go to different chapels at Eglin, and the children would take a taxi to First Baptist Church.

“So Dad would be at Chapel No. 1 to preach, and mom would be at Chapel No. 2 to play the organ,” Rebecca said.

Patricia often slipped by unnoticed, though.

B.J. was an outgoing minister, while Patricia never sought attention. Andrew realizes now they didn’t appreciate her contribution.

“My father was always the star, but she was always there,” Andrew said. “We’re just now realizing, I think, the commitment that she had to service, to the church wherever she went.”

It amazes Mary how Patricia cared for five children with B.J. often gone for military assignment.

“You have never seen a more patient, loving and selfless person,” Mary said. “Growing up, I never thought Mom cried. I never saw her cry.”

Playing piano was likely therapeutic for Patricia, Andrew said.

She was born in 1925 in Monett, Missouri, and played her first piano recital at age 5.

After graduating as valedictorian from her small high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she studied organ at Louisiana State University. From then on, she played Baptist hymns and Christmas music programs next to her husband.

Patricia wanted all of her children to feel the joy of playing piano. Although piano lessons didn’t stick, they are all musicians, Rebecca said.

All of their musical influence was from her, Andrew said.

“It broke her heart that I stopped taking (piano) lessons … ” Andrew said. “She said, ‘If you learn piano, it’s something that will give you pleasure your whole life.'”

First learned, last forgotten

The windows and doors are open, letting fresh air flow into Patricia’s house on Mack Bayou Road. Andrew, Rebecca and Mary persuade Patricia to play the piano, and she obliges.

It’s not long before music fills the room.

There are many songs in Patricia’s repertoire, but the first one she plays is familiar. Rebecca softly sings the lyrics in the background.

Nobody knows the trouble I've been through

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen

Glory hallelujah!

Patricia doesn’t play piano alone.

On Saturday evenings, Rebecca plays flute with her to rehearse for church the next morning. Rebecca lives with Patricia and drives her for more than an hour to Bluewater Community Church every week to play piano. Sometimes Lexi will lie under the piano bench during church.

“It’s showtime,” Rebecca tells her Sundays as they get ready.

“Sunday is a special day at our house,” Rebecca says. “We just about can’t have a Sunday go by without going to church and being part.”

With dementia, it’s important to continue doing things you know how to do, Rebecca says.

“It’s difficult getting up, getting ready and going over there, but it’s a regular commitment that becomes part of your life,” Rebecca says.

Patricia’s favorite part about church is, “being there with all the people that I know,” she says. Rebecca teases her mother, saying she is surprised her favorite part is not the cookies after the service.

She is everyone’s favorite person to see at church, Mary says.

“(Rebecca) and I listen when she’s playing during the offertory, and we just look at each other like, ‘Where did that come from?’” Mary said. “It’s just hidden way down in there.”

Playing piano is like “auto-pilot” for Patricia.

“She could do it blindfolded probably,” Andrew says.

Patricia’s ability to play piano reflects the old saying “first learned, last forgotten,” Rebecca says.

Patricia’s children first suspected memory loss when Patricia drove to church on a Thursday thinking it was Sunday, Rebecca says. The church secretary called them to pick her up.

Patricia can’t recall all the places she’s lived, but she can always find her way back to the piano bench at church.

If you get there before I do

Oh, yes, Lord

Tell all-a my friends I'm coming to Heaven!