I never got the chance to meet my grandma Joey.
Even though my middle name — Joann — is her namesake, she passed away a few months before I was born. I ache to know her, to be close to her. Yet, somehow, I feel at times that I am. Even though earthly life presently separates us, I know that she is a very real influence in my life, and I love her.
The legacy she left for her family continues to bless my life and strengthen my faith. I still glean wisdom from the meaningful recordings of her day-to-day life in carefully preserved journals and letters. I think of often of a particular passage written in one letter:
“I know the gospel is true. I am so grateful for it and for the fact that I have had the opportunity to be a member of His church, to have had the privilege of raising my family under its principles. How proud I am of the children I have had, 3 sons and 2 daughters and those who have been added to us. How anxious I am to have these Grandchildren stay sweet and precious and faithful to their Heavenly Father.” – Joann Baldwin, November 1981
Her testimony means so much to me. Her spiritual fortitude and grateful perspective inspire me to be a more loving mother and a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. I am so grateful that through the preservation of her memories and thoughts, I can remain close to her and learn from her rich life of love and service.
Whether we’re learning from our ancestors, or simply talking to those more seasoned in life than ourselves, we are repeatedly reminded of the important things in life: the people around us, and the relationships we cultivate. With bodies and souls radiantly bearing witness of their wisdom and experience, the elderly in our lives help inspire us to let go of the rush of the daily rat race and focus on what really matters. Their lives are worth remembering and honoring.
It is for this reason that my heart aches with admiration for the work of Katie Cheesman, creator of The Listening Ear Project. Her daily work is divinely meaningful. Interviewing and filming the life stories of the elderly, she lovingly offers the gift of remembered — and cherished — memories. Not only has Katie taught me so much about following your passions with confidence, but she has also instilled in me the everlasting importance of offering a listening ear to those around me who have so much to offer and share. Have we taken the opportunity to be taught and blessed by the wisdom and life stories of the seniors around us? Let Katie inspire you to do so. Everyone, meet Katie!
How did the Listening Ear Project get started?
From the time I was a little girl, I always felt a connection to the elderly. I eventually went to nursing school with plans to work in the geriatric field. Fast forward a couple of years and a baby later, I was working as a home health nurse and I was fascinated with my patient’s stories. I also saw the impact of listening and watched my patients light up when I would take the time to hear what they had to say. I have always enjoyed creating videos, so one day I picked up my camera and filmed some of my older friends. I quit my job as a nurse and decided that I was going to pursue my true passion, which was filming and interviewing seniors to document their lives and share their wisdom with the world.
How have you seen yourself grow through the project?
I have grown in so many ways, thanks to the incredible humans I have interviewed. I can’t even count how many life lessons I’ve learned from spending time with those who are more seasoned in this complicated thing called life. I have also grown in confidence. I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone countless times, but the reward is always worth the discomfort.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? What are the biggest challenges?
The most rewarding part is creating new friendships and learning from the incredible people I interview. The biggest challenge is trying to juggle all of the filming and equipment while I focus on the interview process! One day I would love to hire a camera crew and just do my favorite part, which is visit with the individual!
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your experiences with the elderly? How have their stories impacted you?
The relationships that we have in this life are the most important thing that we have. Spending time with so many who are near the end of their life has taught me that our accomplishments, wealth, what we look like, etc. really don’t matter in the end. It’s our families and friends that we should be focusing on.
How can we all be better at recording our stories, and the stories of those around us?
I think people get overwhelmed with the idea of “documenting,” but it really is more simple than we think. Documenting could be jotting down a funny saying your parent or grandparent said, it could be snapping a selfie with them, or asking them one simple question each time you visit while filming it on your phone! Remembering to take advantage of those little moments to capture your loved one will result in a cherished gift one day.
Tells us about your Timeless Love project. What inspired it?
Many of the couples I have interviewed have been married for over 60 years and I was just really inspired by that. I often ask the question, “what makes a marriage work for that many years?” I figured there are plenty of young couples that could benefit from the advice, and have an example for what they can achieve if they apply it to their marriage.
What is one of the most meaningful experiences you’ve had while filming seniors?
Two experiences come to mind:
I had a sweet, sweet neighbor who was dying of cancer and I was able to film her husband caring for her. It was the truest act of love I have ever witnessed and I was able to give the family a record of it. She ended up passing away two weeks later.
Another one was filming my friend Grant (who is 87) run a 50-mile race. Watching him push his body in the freezing cold rain changed my life. Any time I’m going through a difficult time, I think of his endurance and continue moving forward.
What advice would you give to those with a budding dream? How can we all develop the courage to pursue our passion projects?
DO IT. Just start. I think we often get caught up in the details of how it will all work, but if you just take action and start, you will be surprised by how easily it can fall into place. That’s not to say there won’t be “failures” along the way, but if it is driven by passion, I believe it will take you as far as you let it.
How can we be better listeners? How can we improve this much-needed skill?
It all comes down to being humble and selfless. It’s hard as humans to not share about your life, your problems, your successes, it’s natural… But just being aware, and setting aside your own agenda will help the other person really feel heard. That, and putting your phone away, which is something I’m still working on!
How do you balance motherhood and caregiving with your business and goals?
This has been the most difficult part of the whole entire thing, but my biggest advice would be to ignore the inner critic, cultural pressures, and judgments/unsolicited advice from others. This is hard! Because sometimes those voices can be LOUD, but at the end of the day, this is your life and your dream and if it’s important to you, it’s worth pursuing. I also believe that having my children watch me overcome difficult things and accomplish goals, will ultimately benefit them.
What is one of the biggest lesson you’ve learned from owning your own business?
It is A LOT of hard work. I never thought I would put in the hours that I do, and thankfully I love it, but I’m constantly recalibrating, learning a new skill, figuring out my game plan, and adjusting to opportunities that may come along. I think rolling with the punches is the best way to go because business (and life in general) will always be changing!
The Fun Qs:
Your favorite meal?
Mac & cheese, hands down.
The best book you’ve read lately?
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
Your favorite way to unwind?
Stretching, listening to a podcast, or a good ole’ GNO.
Your latest Netflix/Hulu binge?
Poldark! It is so good.
Switzerland, Greece, or New Zealand. I can’t decide!
*GIVEAWAY! To honor inspiring Katie’s work, I’m giving away a copy of The Lines on Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo, along with a journal to document memories with your grandma. To be entered to win, simply follow me and @thelisteningearproject on Instagram, and comment on this post with your favorite memory with a grandparent. Giveaway ends 10/2.
(US residents only. Giveaway is not endorsed or sponsored by Katie or the Listening Ear Project. Giveaway will be closed at 11:59 pm CT 10/2. Winner announced 10/3. Good luck!)