My dad was known for being a great storyteller. He had a quick wit, a wry sense of humor and plenty of rad real life experiences to draw from. He grew up in Southern California during Hollywood's heyday, and carved out a pretty interesting career for himself as a tour manager for a number of rock icons, including The Doors, Deep Purple and Ringo Starr of the Beatles, to name a few. He had a zest for life and traveled the world many times over, collecting memories and experiences as he went. His passport was his most treasured possession in life—filled to the brim with stamps from far off and exotic places around the globe. He had a real knack for telling engaging stories about the people and places he experienced that would rival those found in any history book or biography.
I remember so clearly the day we visited his doctor and got the news. Stage 4 lung cancer. Terminal. Six months to a year. When you receive a diagnosis like that, it's difficult to put into words the way it changes your perspective of life—both of what a gift it is and how fragile it can be.
Katie Cheeseman knows a thing or two about having great conversations. In fact, you could even say she’s made it part of her mission in life. As the founder of The Listening Ear Project she documents conversations with the elderly, focusing on capturing stories and lessons they have to share.
With a background in nursing, Katie has focused much of her career on working with the geriatric community in home health. Early on, it didn’t take long for her to notice that when she took the time to stop and listen to her patients' tell stories about their lives, their demeanor would change completely. In fact, it made a huge impact—both on them and on her. Katie quickly realized that loneliness is one of the most common things our elderly friends experience as they age.
Three years ago, I started The Listening Ear Project, where I film and interview senior citizens and share their life stories online. The idea came when I was working as a home health nurse. I discovered my passion for the elderly and their stories, and I wanted to share their wisdom with the world. I started filming my interviews, watched endless YouTube videos about videography, and taught myself how to edit. I never thought I’d shift my entire focus from nursing to film and journalism, but I felt called to advocate for the elderly and to inspire others through storytelling.
After three years of working on The Listening Ear Project, I came to a fork in the road. Did I want to continue pursuing this time-consuming passion of mine, or did I want to replace those hours of interviewing and editing with soaking in every minute of my children’s lives? As I thought more about these questions, a wave of mom-guilt washed over me. The cliché phrases “they grow up too fast” and “time flies!” came to mind. For a split second, I thought, “I have to quit. It’s not worth it.”