By Jessica Reinhart
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.
With her professional experience as her inspiration, Katie took it upon herself to seek out people who didn’t have anyone to talk with . . . people who simply need a listening ear. She believes it’s important to document these stories before they’re gone forever and also that it’s a meaningful way to serve those around us.
One of Katie's favorite things to do is encourage others to interview their loved ones while they have the chance, “I am constantly blown away by how resilient the human spirit is. Every single person I have interviewed has been through something extremely difficult. Whether it's losing a child, going without food and clothing, being trapped in an abusive relationship or experiencing the horrors of war. It is amazing how much I have learned from their experiences. Despite their trials, they choose to be positive—and that is really inspiring.”
So, here is our challenge to you: Think of a loved one who you can take the time to interview. To help you get started, Katie is sharing some of her favorite interview questions. Her biggest tip? Start by asking questions they’ll be able to answer with ease—this will help you both get comfortable with the process. Then, ease into more thought-provoking questions. Here are some options she recommends:
What is your name and age?
Where and when were you born?
What was your childhood like? What did you do for fun as a child?
What was your favorite birthday or Christmas present?
What were your parents like?
Did you experience any major historical events firsthand? What was that like?
How did you meet your spouse? What makes a successful marriage?
Did you have children? What was your favorite part of mother/fatherhood?
What was your profession?
What is one of the hardest things you have had to face? How did you get through that experience and what did you learn from it?
What is something that brings you joy?
What is the coolest thing that has been invented in your lifetime?
What is one of your greatest accomplishments?
If you could give advice to younger generations, what would it be?
We hope this inspires you to take time to be a listening ear. If you’re thinking about interviewing an elderly friend or family member, please be sure to check out Katie’s tips on how to ensure the interview goes smoothly here.
If you want to see cute old people and hear rad stories, follow along with Katie’s work on Instagram @thelisteningearproject or at thelisteningearproject.com.