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National Day of Listening: Getting the Story

Tina Gunn
By Tina GunnNovember 24, 2017
National Day of Listening: Getting the Story

Last Updated: November 24, 2017

This Thanksgiving, take advantage of having your family gathered together to capture stories and strengthen ties by asking questions and having a meaningful conversation.

We often become distracted in life and over the holidays that we forget the “quality” in the time we spend with one another. This Thanksgiving, we are encouraging A Place for Mom readers to take stock of relationships with senior loved ones and ask yourselves how much you know about Dad’s journey or Mom’s history.

A National Day of Listening

Are there family stories that you are missing out on? Over the Thanksgiving holiday, take the time to hear these stories and do something meaningful by participating in the National Day of Listening on November 24, 2017.

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The National Day of Listening was founded by StoryCorps, a non-profit organization that is “one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.” They broadcast weekly on NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as on their own Listen Pages. Their mission states, “We are creating an invaluable archive for future generations,” and their goal is to strengthen the connections between people through the power of story –having collected over 50,000 interviews to date.

“We are encouraging people to sit down and talk about family history, relationships and food,” says Dina Zempsky, Director of Mobile Tours at StoryCorps. “While you are all together, how about sharing a meaningful conversation that day.”

StoryCorps offers three options on how to capture the stories of your loved ones:

  1. Head to one of their StoryBooths located in Atlanta, or Chicago.
  2. Schedule an appointment with one of their Mobile Tour booths located in 10 different cities each year.
  3. Record your own session with a StoryCorps Do-It-Yourself interview kit.

For the first two options, “We use a model of two people who know each other to come in together to interview each other, but we also have a facilitator to assist with the recording process and the interview as needed,” says Zempsky. “Our staff has been trained to do supportive interviews for those with memory loss.”

Participants receive a broadcast quality CD, and with permission, their story can get broadcasted in different areas. “Segments that we use on the website with permission have been edited, but what you leave with is the entire raw interview,” explains Zempsky. “Many people go back through the interview to use in their support groups, doctors use them for training and professors use them for lessons.”

Additionally, there is no charge for participants since StoryCorps considers itself a public service, however, they do accept donations.

Great Questions Lead to Meaningful Conversations

Some conversations are tough to have and people may not be sure how to even approach the conversation of wanting to capture their loved ones’ stories. StoryCorps can help with this, too.

“This is not a journalistic interview, it’s a conversation between two people,” says Zempsky. “On our website, we have a list of Great Questions as a template on how to direct the interview. People start with these questions, but then the interview takes on a more organic direction once they get going.”

These questions are divided into the following categories:

  • Family heritage
  • Friends and colleagues
  • Grandparents
  • Great questions for anyone
  • Growing up
  • Love and relationships
  • Marriage and partnerships
  • Parents
  • Raising children
  • Religion
  • Remembering a loved one
  • School
  • Serious illness
  • War
  • Working

You can also use these 10 sample questions:

  1. How would you describe yourself as a child?
  2. What did you do for a living?
  3. What is your earliest memory?
  4. What traditions have been passed down in your family?
  5. What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  6. What was your childhood like?
  7. What were your grandparents like?
  8. What were your parents like?
  9. What wisdom do you want to pass onto great-great grandchildren?
  10. Who has been the most important person in your life?

Additionally, Zempsky warns not to push a difficult topic as it could trigger PTSD about the event.

For loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, Zempsky suggests that people use photos to start the conversation, music or singing, talk about family recipes and holiday celebrations, or even include the food attached to that event. “These are non-threatening ways to get people with Alzheimer’s to talk.”

Select which category makes most sense for your purpose, and get a conversation going this Thanksgiving by participating in the National Day of Listening.

Don’t miss out on a valuable opportunity to capture stories that only your loved ones hold in their hearts and memories.

What questions would you want to ask your senior loved ones? Will you participate in the National Day of Listening? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Tina Gunn
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Tina Gunn

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