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Grandparents Isolated? Here’s a Way to Keep Them Engaged

We're in the midst of a health crisis — and we sure don't want to expose our elders! Unfortunately, our parents/grandparents are often feeling isolated and disconnected from the family.

In order to keep in touch with my own grandmother, who’s living alone in Barranquilla, Colombia, while I live in Mexico City, I decided to interview her to start to create her memoir. I plan to do a chapter of her life each day. It’s a simple exercise that takes 30 minutes of my day, but she gets to get out of bed, shower, put on some clothes, and look pretty for the interview. In only one week of interviews, I’ve already discovered so many things about her I had no idea about!

Here’s how I did it using Zoom to interview her and LifeTales to organize the content and share it with the rest of the family.

Step 1: Organize your ideas

Before any steps, first, you need to ask your grandparents (or parents) if they would like you to do their memoir. Once you have consent, you’re ready to get started. What helped me get organized was the simple guide you have in the LifeTales app when you choose to start a memoir. It’s divided by Early Years, Teen Years, Family Developments, Travels, and others. Taking the little I knew about her, I also added a few chapters myself and with that input, my next step was to prepare the interview.

Step 2: Prepare the questions

For each of the chapters, or stages of life, have a set of questions that can serve as guidelines. For example, in my first interview, I included general questions to ease her into it like: what’s your favorite color? What do you like to eat? What do you like doing? What do you dislike doing? With that, she understood the dynamic and it was easy to get into other questions afterward. Here’s a list of questions that can help you.

Step 3: Teach them how to use Zoom

Assuming your grandparents are not tech-savvy, there needs to be some hand-holding at first to help them figure out how to connect with you. I wanted to use Zoom because it allows me to record the conversation with video, that not many easy-to-use apps let you do. So,  I called my grandma via WhatsApp calls and gave her instructions on the phone. Our conversation sounded something like:

  • Joanna: ok, click the link I sent you, I’ll call you in 30 seconds.
  • Joanna: ok when you clicked the link, what did it say?
  • Grandma Nancy: it said that (among other options) to enter a meeting and download an app.
  • Joanna: Yes! Click that one, download the app just like you do for the gaming apps, and then click the link I sent you again.
  • Grandma Nancy: (she logs in the Zoom room chat, but I can’t see video or hear her so I call her back)
  • Joanna: grandma, touch the screen, you see that something comes out? Yes, click the microphone. Yes! I can hear you. Now, touch the screen again, see the camera icon? Yes, allow it. Yes! I can see you!

Once we got it figured out, it was a victory for both of us. It seems like a short conversation, but it took us a good 20 minutes to be able to do it. Totally worth it, though.

Special note: I just learned that LifeTales will be launching a beta feature very shortly to make this part really easy!

Step 4: Interview!

Now that you have consent, the questions, and the tech in order, it’s time for the interview. This is actually the easiest part, just don’t forget to press record on Zoom. Here are some quick tips, in case you’ve never done one, on how to do a great job at interviewing.

  1. Practice active listening: you can have some questions prepared, but the most important skill of a good interviewer is the ability to listen with intention. The pre-prepared questions are just a guide but what will make your interview great is the conversation you’re having with your subject.
  2. Make Follow-up questions: because you’ve been listening intently, you’ll know if it’s time to forget about the questions you had prepared and to let the conversation be guided by the moment.
  3. Give them time to think: especially for elders, when you ask a question, they will probably answer whatever comes to mind first, but if you don’t ask the next question right away but let them sit with it for a moment, they’ll continue digging into a more sincere answer.

There are a number of tips and tricks but in my case what I found to be more useful was pausing and listening.

Step 5: Divide, trim, adjust

Maybe you’ll end up with a 30 minutes video that covers various subjects. You can choose to upload it like that but I suggest you trim it into shorter stories for two reasons: 1. It’ll be easier to organize and access the content on LifeTales based on subjects. 2. It’s easier to watch a 10-minute video instead of a 30-minute one when you send it to family and/or friends. Using Quicktime player for trimming is as easy as it can get.

Step 6: Create a story on LifeTales

Now that the content is ready and divided per subject, your next step is quite simple. All you have to do is go to your LifeTales profile, create a memoir (if you haven’t already), give it a name and create your first story. As per the suggestion of the app, I created my first story in “The Early Years” section. I added the video, gave it a name, a date, and published it. Here’s a How-To guide on how to create a story.

Step 7: Share!

It might seem like a lot of steps, but once you do it the first time, the following occasions it becomes easier because you already have many things in place. The last step is to share the link of the LifeTales story with your family and that’s it! They can share with you the joy of getting to know your family’s history better and for your grandparents to feel relevant, connected and close, especially during these times of isolation.

I hope this story inspires you to connect with your distant family members. I’ve been doing this with my grandmother now but I’d like to do it at a later time with my dad and my mom as well. I’ve discovered many things about my family that I didn’t know before, and I also feel closer to grandma. It’s a win-win on every angle you check. Enjoy interviewing!