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Nicodemus descendants preserve history of former slaves’ quest for freedom in Kansas

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Angela Bates, a fifth-generation descendant of Nicodemus, points to historical artifacts of the Kansas town created by former slaves in the 1870s. She spoke Wednesday at Spencer Research Library at University of Kansas, which archived portions of Nicodemus history. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Angela Bates, a fifth-generation descendant of Nicodemus, points to historical artifacts of the Kansas town created by former slaves in the 1870s. She spoke Wednesday at Spencer Research Library at University of Kansas, which archived portions of Nicodemus history. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Fifth-generation Nicodemus descendant Angela Bates draws inspiration from carrying forward the history of people who left the South in the 1870s to establish a town in rural Kansas where they might move closer to the promise of freedom.

Bates, who was raised in California by parents born in Nicodemus, eventually relocated to Kansas, formed the Nicodemus Historical Society and campaigned to preserve the documentary history of a town that had gradually fallen on hard economic times. Structural pieces of Nicodemus remain these days in a handful of buildings. The settlement near the Solomon River has been designated a National Historic Site by Congress.

“It’s always exciting to talk about Nicodemus,” she said. “It runs in my blood. I’m a channeler of all of those ancestors that endured slavery and have gone on before me. I’m glad I’m still here to tell their stories and to preserve their history.”

Bates brought her slice of oral history to the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas, where a collection of photographs and documents related to Nicodemus has been archived. She said the library served as the Fort Knox of history for people tied to Nicodemus. She recently completed work on a documentary about settlement of Nicodemus and the legacy of a community far from the Kentucky hills where many settlers were recruited.

Her great-great-grandfather Tom Johnson was among the first to arrive in 1877. A great-great-great-grandfather on her father’s side of the family came to Nicodemus in 1879. While her parents moved in the 1950s in California, the family returned to Nicodemus regularly for celebrations of the emancipation of slaves in the United States.

“I feel very blessed to be part of the Nicodemus legacy,” Bates said. “I’m doing it not for fame, not for money — obviously not money — but I do it because I don’t want their stories to be lost. I think their stories are important. They’ve been a part of my life. I can remember sneaking around listening to the old folk. I wish I had a pen and paper at that point and taken down notes, because I got some stories. I tell you.”

 

Spirit, determination

The people who made a home in Nicodemus included formerly enslaved residents of the central bluegrass region of Kentucky, which included Lexington and Georgetown. The objective was to gain ownership of land in Kansas and put distance between themselves and aggressively enforced Jim Crow laws stalling the ability of Black Americans to broaden their personal experience with freedom, Bates said.

Bates said the decision by more than 300 people to leave Kentucky was difficult, especially for people who had been confined on plantations and had traveled little. The Great Plains was geographically quite different from the environs of Kentucky, she said. She said Jim Crow’s hold on Kansas wasn’t as fierce, but that mindset was an unmistakable presence in Kansas, too.

“It’s not like Kentucky, but they’ve got free land,” Bates said. “Your geographic mindset is tiny, but your imagination is big and your heart is even bigger and your spirit and determination is even greater. And the greatest thing of all is that you have faith in God that you’re going to make a difference.”

Bates said the early period in Nicodemus was harsh, but Potawatomie and Osage tribe members assisted settlers. Potawatomie members on a hunting trip shared game with Nicodemus residents in the first year, she said. Initially, homesteaders lived in dugouts or sod structures.

She said it was often assumed the name of the town came from Biblical stories of Nicodemus. However, she said, the name was drawn from a Civil War-era abolitionist song “Wake Nicodemus” about the end of slavery.

Residents of Nicodemus helped organize Graham County. The first three county attorneys were Black men, she said.

Bates said Nicodemus was passed over when decisions were made about construction of a railroad system from Salina to Colby. Track was laid several miles from Nicodemus at Bogue. It was consequential because a collection of merchants in Nicodemus relocated to Bogue, she said.

She said the Dust Bowl years and Great Depression further eroded the business community in Nicodemus. More families moved away over the years, she said, but elements of their history, including five buildings, remain of the settlement. The preserved archive record, including community and family photos, put a face to people who engaged in a courageous effort to reposition themselves inside the United States.

“More than anything, they brought their spirit of determination and cooperation, and they did work together,” Bates said. “A lot of people knew each other. Before they came, they were on neighboring plantations or on the same plantation. I think those are some of the things that really made the community cohesive over the years.”

 

‘Never occurred to me’

Bates said there was tension between Nicodemus and predominantly white towns and cities nearby. Relations with Hill City and Bogue were strained at times, she said, and about 20 miles away the city of Stockton had a sundown rule that prohibited nonwhite people from remaining in city limits after sunset. There was a strong bond between Nicodemus and the French-Canadian town of Damar, she said.

The 160-acre core of Nicodemus was designated by the National Park Service as a national historic landmark district. Bates organized the Nicodemus Historical Society in the 1980s.

Subsequently, Bates worked six years with members of the Kansas congressional delegation to secure approval from Congress to declare the homestead of formerly enslaved a national historic site.

“It never occurred to me, not one time, that it wasn’t going to happen,” Bates said.

She said the Nicodemus historic site and the town’s historical society needed an infusion of financial resources to improve access to the local history.

On Wednesday, Bates brought a fresh bundle of Nicodemus materials to add to the collection at Spencer Research Library at KU.

“These people represent what African-Americans did with their freedom,” Bates said. “They participated in manifest destiny.”

She said too often analysis of American history focused on the slave experience and the civil rights movement. The experience of Black people after emancipation and during Reconstruction was generally skipped over, she said.

“That whole chapter is just missing,” she said. “I’m hoping through the story of Nicodemus they will understand what African Americans did with their freedom.”

The post Nicodemus descendants preserve history of former slaves’ quest for freedom in Kansas appeared first on Kansas Reflector.

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angelchrys
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In this Kansas town, an insular Catholic sect leaves some residents feeling left out

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Sunday services at the Immaculata, recently finished after years of effort and fundraising by members of the Society of St. Pius X, draw large crowds.

Sunday services at the Immaculata, recently finished after years of effort and fundraising by members of the Society of St. Pius X, draw large crowds. The massive church is symbolic of SSPX's towering influence in the area. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

ST. MARYS — A growing Catholic sect has divided this small Kansas town between those who view the church’s influence as idyllic or disturbing.

Shops selling Bibles, crosses and modest garb line the main street, where parents stroll by with their children. American flags dangle to showcase patriotism. There are homes with manicured lawns and shade trees, and parks to play. And on the northern edge of St. Marys stands a 66,400-square-foot church, towering over the town. 

The conservative Catholic sect that built the church has transformed life here since its arrival more than four decades ago. The Society of St. Pius X, also known as SSPX, rejects many modern ways of living, requiring modest dress for women, enforcing strict divisions between genders and encouraging large families. As members of the group have gotten into political leadership, they’ve imposed those beliefs, jettisoning books that mention LGBTQ+ people from the public library and shutting down a municipal swimming pool.

Mark Moser, a Society of St. Pius X parishioner, answers questions during an interview in the cry room that overlooks the sanctuary of the Immaculata Church in St. Marys
Mark Moser, a Society of St. Pius X parishioner, answers questions during an interview in the cry room that overlooks the sanctuary of the Immaculata Church in St. Marys. Moser regularly leads tours of the church for visitors from all over the country. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Parishioners highlight the increasing population as a direct link to the church, and they value an insular life. But for residents who fall outside the fold, the Society of St. Pius X’s presence is oppressive. That view is worsened by accusations of sexual abuse from within the church.

For residents devoted to the SSPX faith like Mark Moser, life in St. Marys is carrying out the society’s mission.

“It’s about Catholicism, and following the methods that have been used for centuries,” said Moser, who moved to the town in the early 1980s and now serves on its recreation board. “It was the society that God put in place to continue the tradition of the church.”

Church officials didn’t respond to interview requests for this story. Church officials directed questions to spokesman James Vogel, the editor of St. Marys-based Angelus Press, which publishes Catholic literature. Vogel did not respond to calls or voicemails left at his cellphone and business’ phone, or a text message follow-up. Phone inquiries with SSPX’s U.S. district headquarters in Platte City and in-person and phone inquiries at the St. Marys church office were redirected to Vogel.

While attempting to reach Vogel in-person at Angelus Press, an SSPX priest coincidentally in the bookstore said he could not be interviewed without approval from church authorities.

 

Many believers drive to St. Marys over the weekends to attend sermons at the Immaculata, recently finished after years of effort and fundraising by members of the Society of St. Pius X
Many believers drive to St. Marys over the weekends to attend sermons at the Immaculata, recently finished after years of effort and fundraising by members of the Society of St. Pius X. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Inside versus outside

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded SSPX in 1970 following changes from the Vatican aimed at modernizing the church. The society arrived in St. Marys in 1978, buying a collection of historical buildings formerly owned by Jesuits and starting St. Mary’s Academy and College.

By 2023, it had finished construction of the $42 million structure named Immaculata. The largest SSPX-built church in the world, the structure features brickwork made to look like limestone, two bell towers and a gold-coated Virgin Mary statue positioned to peer down on the town below.

Since SSPX established itself here, the town population has seen steady growth. Census figures show it’s now home to about 2,800 people — a 50% jump since 1980 and a sharp contrast to declining populations in other rural Kansas communities.

That growth — and the church’s draw from surrounding communities — is evident during a Sunday service at the Immaculata. 

Morning light bathes rows of families filling the wood pews that set up more than 1,500, while others form a long line down the side of the 12-story church, waiting to step into the confessional and unburden their sins. Chapel veils, mostly white, dangle fringe over the women and girls’ faces. With many toddlers and babies in attendance, little heads pop up over the pews. 

But outside the church walls, tension arises.

The public swimming pool in St. Marys, once a historic community amenity, has been closed and filled in. Rock and gravel now mark the spot. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)
The public swimming pool in St. Marys, once a historic community amenity, has been closed and filled in. Rock and gravel now mark the spot. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Hannah Stockman, who grew up in the St. Marys area and moved to town in 2020, refers to herself and other residents who aren’t part of the society as “townies.” 

She motions to the houses around hers to point out that all of her neighbors attend SSPX services. Once, she said, other girls from the neighborhood came into her yard to confront her stepdaughter over a Pride T-shirt.

“It’s hard to fit in unless you go to SSPX,” Stockman said. “And then there’s the townies, who kind of all just stay isolated in their own home.”

Stockman helped organize efforts to save the Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library in 2022, when the SSPX-dominated city commission debated pulling the library’s lease over its refusal to accept a “morality clause” and remove all material that could be viewed as socially, racially or sexually divisive, including all LGBTQ+ content.

Many non-SSPX residents were afraid to oppose the church, Stockman said, and she described their thought process as: “We stand up, then we will lose our business. Or, if we stand up, my husband will lose his job. Or, if we say something in opposition, there’s a whole array of fear.”

In 2023, the city commission succeeded in forcing the library to remove LGBTQ+ books for youths from the library. While commissioners have no governing power over the library, the branch would be forced to find a new location if the lease weren’t renewed, giving up a community spot it has held for decades.

Library director Judith Cremer, who has commuted to work in St. Marys from Topeka for 20 years, said community relations had settled down since then.

“We’ve always tried to be very welcoming to everybody that walks in the door,” Cremer said. “That’s always been my stand, and that’s how we run the library. It’s hard to be neutral in this world. But we try the hardest we can. We don’t take any sides. And we don’t turn anybody away. And we also don’t make them feel like they don’t belong.”

Judith Cremer, director of the public library in St. Marys., works long hours as she attempts to fill several open library positions. Cremer says community relations have improved since last year's tension over the library lease. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)
Judith Cremer, director of the public library in St. Marys, works long hours as she attempts to fill several open library positions. Cremer says community relations have improved since last year’s tension over the library lease. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Moser acknowledged his church is sometimes at odds with people who aren’t a part of it. But he also recognized the political advantages his group holds.

“Who’s going to win? The one with the most numbers,” Moser said. “That sounds way too simplistic. And I don’t mean to just boil it down to that, because I’ve lived here forever and I know lots and lots of town people that are just the best people ever.”

Moser has served on the municipal recreation board for more than 30 years. He said all of his fellow board members are SSPX-associated. The entire city commission is made up of SSPX members, including Francis Awerkamp, who also represents the area in the state House. His family’s business, the Onyx Collection, is a prominent employer in St. Marys. Awerkamp did not respond to Kansas Reflector inquiries made through phone and email.

The town’s non-SSPX residents were alarmed in recent years over the shutdown of the community’s golf course and swimming pool. Residents said SSPX members were concerned about immodest swimsuits and golf skirts and people of different genders interacting.

Lack of modesty was a factor in the closures, Moser acknowledged, but so were the costs to maintain and repair the pool, which opened in the 1920s.

With deterioration and no “feasible option for a lasting repair,” according to city commission documents, the commission permanently closed the pool in 2021.

 

The main street in St. Marys has restaurants and plenty of shopping options for religious literature and modest dresses. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)
The main street in St. Marys has restaurants and plenty of shopping options for religious literature and modest dresses. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Sexual abuse investigations

When the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in 2023 released its four-year inquiry into accusations of child sexual abuse in four Catholic dioceses and SSPX, KBI officials said they were still looking into criminal allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members associated with SSPX.

KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said the agency is still investigating “allegations against SSPX.”

Theresa Goodman, a Kansas City resident, grew up in the SSPX St. Marys community after her family, drawn by the promise of a burgeoning religious culture, moved from San Antonio in the 1980s. Her father worked as a maintenance man for SSPX at the time.

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

Goodman remembers telling a priest during confession when she was 9 that a family member sexually abused her. The priest told her to say extra Hail Marys, she said.

She wants to share her story to help others come forward.

“It’s something that happened to me. It’s not who I am. Releasing that trauma really means to just release it,” Goodman said. “Where you have extreme religious ideology, you’re going to definitely have these predators, for sure.”

Goodman also said she had concerns about her brother, Michael Gonzalez, who died from suicide at the age of 25 in 2000. He had accused an SSPX priest of sexually abusing him as a boy, the Kansas Star reported.

Another woman who grew up in the community said her father would beat her and her siblings for watching a movie or reading a book not aligned with the religion, or for talking with a member of the opposite sex. He also sexually abused her, she said. Kansas Reflector doesn’t identify survivors of sexual or domestic violence without their consent, and she asked not to be named.

“I did go to confession, and I did tell them that I had performed sexual acts,” she said. “And not one of them asked me with who, who did it, and not one of them questioned, ‘Why is this child telling us they’re performing sexual acts on somebody?’ And as an adult now, I’m looking back and I’m actually dumbfounded that these grown men in a confessional would sit there and listen to this little child’s voice telling them something was happening and they didn’t do anything about it.”

Instead, she said, they told her to say penance, such as 10 Hail Marys or a novena.

A Virgin Mary statue stands positioned at the top of the Immaculata in St. Marys. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)
A Virgin Mary statue stands positioned at the top of the Immaculata in St. Marys. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Michelle McCormick, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said deeply hierarchical structures can create the kind of isolation that enables predators, because their victims don’t have many options for seeking help.

The people in charge of these structures want to protect their values and beliefs from the “scary outside world,” McCormick said.

“I understand the motivation behind that, and even the comfort that that would give some folks,” she said. “But that also is the dynamic that perpetrators, those who cause harm, will try to capitalize on in order to create a lack of options for those that they’re victimizing in getting help.”

During a Sunday mass in June, Father Patrick Rutledge spoke of sexual violence.

He told the story of St. Maria Goretti, the patron saint of rape victims. In 1902, the 11-year-old girl was killed by her older neighbor who stabbed her 14 times after attempting to rape her. She forgave her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli, on her deathbed and said she wanted to see him in heaven. Serenelli went to jail for 27 years, where he repented after he dreamed of her, according to popular accounts of her canonization.

“In heaven, no doubt, there will be those who have not sullied grievously their baptismal innocence,” Rutledge says. “But most likely, more abundantly shall we say, hopefully we will be surrounded by those who have sullied their baptismal innocence, but have repented for their sins, even public ones, and through confession have become victorious through the blood of the lamb.”

Kansas Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Melissa Underwood did not respond to an email or phone call before this story was published, but she responded after it first appeared online. The story has been updated to say the KBI investigation is ongoing.

The post In this Kansas town, an insular Catholic sect leaves some residents feeling left out appeared first on Kansas Reflector.

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angelchrys
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yikes
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Neil Gaiman has been accused of sexual assault

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In a four-part podcast produced by British outlet Tortoise Media, two women have accused Neil Gaiman of sexually assaulting them. The complaints span two decades and involve Scarlett, 23, and K, then 18, who both say that the American Gods and The Sandman author violated their boundaries to engage in “rough and degrading sex” with them while they were in otherwise consensual relationships with him.

Scarlett alleges that Gaiman assaulted her within hours of their meeting in his New Zealand residence in February 2022, when she was hired as a nanny for his child. The two apparently shared a bath where, according to Gaiman, they only “cuddled” and “made out” with consent. A three-week relationship followed in which Gaiman claims that the two “only ever engaged in consensual digital penetration,” the words of the Tortoise report. Scarlett, however, alleges that Gaiman “engaged in rough and degrading penetrative sexual acts with her” during this time. In their report, Tortoise cites text messages and conversations with friends of Scarlett’s that support her allegations.

The second woman, known as K, says she was 18 in 2003, when she met Gaiman at a book signing in Sarasota, Florida. They allegedly began a relationship when K was 20 and Gaiman was in his mid-40s. She alleges that during their relationship, she submitted to painful sex that “she neither wanted nor enjoyed.” In one incident, she claims that Gaiman penetrated her despite her asking him not to, as she was suffering from a painful infection at the time.

According to Tortoise, Gaiman “strongly denies any allegations of non-consensual sex with the women” and notes that “New Zealand police did not take up his offer of assistance” over Scarlett’s 2022 complaint, which, he says, “reflects its lack of substance.” He also apparently believes that Scarlett was suffering from a condition associated with false memories at the time of their relationship, a claim which, the outlet notes, “is not supported by her medical records and medical history.”

Gaiman also denies any unlawful behavior in regards to K, and is apparently “disturbed by her allegations.” Tortoise writes that he “believes K’s allegations are motivated by her regret over their relationship.” Reps for Gaiman did not immediately respond to The A.V. Club’s request for comment on this story.

If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual abuse, contact the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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angelchrys
11 days ago
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acdha
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Washington, DC
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Bracket Symbols

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’"‘”’" means "I edited this text on both my phone and my laptop before sending it"
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angelchrys
13 days ago
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popular
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jlvanderzwan
13 days ago
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Is the implication that all French people are animorphs?
iustinp
13 days ago
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He he :)
Switzerland

A Note on “AI” Art and My Book Covers

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Well, Goddamnit, it looks like some “AI”-generated art got onto one of my covers, specifically, the cover to the Italian edition of Starter Villain. Some (actual human) artists tracked down the cover art, and (on Adobe’s stock art site, at least), it’s marked as “generated with AI.”

It’s my policy not to accept AI-generated art for final cover art, and I thought I and my team had communicated that widely. When this art was presented to me for approval, I made the assumption that it was done by a human, and approved it. So, this is on me.

And by “on me,” I mean I don’t want to side-eye my Italian publisher or their art people. The choice of this art was made several months ago, and not every stock art site (and this stock art is on more than one site) then or now labels their available stock art as “AI-generated.” It’s possible that this was chosen in the belief it was created by an actual person. Likewise, it’s possible that my “no AI” policy fell through a crack somewhere between here and Italy. Basically, there are a lot of places where something could have fallen down without assuming bad faith on anyone’s part. These are explanations, mind you, not excuses. If you’re going to blame someone for this, it’s me you need to blame. My name is on that cover.

That being the case, here’s what I am doing right now to make sure we don’t have this happen again, and to mitigate some of the damage AI-generated art is doing to the actual humans in the field.

1. I have instructed my agent (who is sending the instruction down the chain), that all book contracts henceforth have to agree that cover art must be created by a human artist. Stock art use is acceptable, but that stock art must be human-created, not AI-generated. We will expect our contractual partners to exercise due diligence to make sure these conditions are met (by, as an example, using only stock art sites that note when art is AI-generated). I’ll note that Tor already has agreed to this. So this is no longer just a policy; it’s a hard contractual point.

2. I have donated to the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, specifically to their Sponsored Memberships for BIPOC artists, to help emerging artists from marginalized communities receive the benefit of the professional and artistic community that ASFA can provide. They will need it for this new era of artistry.

Be aware that even with this contract point in place, it will become increasingly hard to keep “AI”-generated art out of covers, especially when stock art is used; not all of it will be labeled and not all of it will be immediately obvious as AI-generation continues to refine itself. And it will be likely that what the definition of “AI-generated” is will change over time. But it’s worth it to exercise vigilance, and to have “it “human-created” as a contract point nevertheless, if only to ensure there is a human artist on the other end of things, benefitting from their skill and effort. That’s important to me.

— JS

(PS: Comments on this entry may be wonky, I tried adding one and I got an error; if you are experiencing the same don’t panic, I’ll look into it. In the meantime, the additional comment I was going to make:

“For anyone about to chime in about ‘AI’ features in drawing programs, Photoshop, etc, I will note I think there is a distinct creative difference between using these programs as tools to foster human creativity, and using these programs to substitute for human creativity. If you can’t see that salient difference between those, that’s on you.”)

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angelchrys
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LeMadChef
26 days ago
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As a software developer I cannot agree with this point more:

"“For anyone about to chime in about ‘AI’ features in drawing programs, Photoshop, etc, I will note I think there is a distinct creative difference between using these programs as tools to foster human creativity, and using these programs to substitute for human creativity. If you can’t parse the salient difference between those, that’s on you.”)"
Denver, CO

“My first end-of-life patient was a 97-year-old man. He had a...

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“My first end-of-life patient was a 97-year-old man. He had a much younger girlfriend; she was seventy-four. But they loved each other so much. Back when their spouses were still alive, the four of them had been great friends. They would double date together. And when their spouses passed away, the two of them became a thing. Every day she would come over for lunch. I’d always cook a little meal for them. I’d prepare the table; I’d lay out my little candles and my little flowers. As soon as she arrived I’d put on music and dim the lights, then I’d leave the room and go wait in the bedroom. They would cuddle and snuggle. And the beauty of it was, even though he couldn’t control his fluids at that point, she never minded the smell. Her love for him was so great that they would still kiss and all that good stuff. When the doctors said that it was time for him to go to hospice, he said he didn’t want to go. He told them that he wanted to come back home and die with me. I was with him in the end. My patients never die alone. Never, ever. One week after his passing I was hired by his girlfriend’s family. She had terminal Alzheimer’s, and I ended up staying with her for seven years. I fell in love with her. We were family, just family. She used to be a tap dancer. We’d sing together. And if she didn’t feel like singing, I’d sing. Even near the end, she always knew when something was wrong with me. When I wasn’t being the Gabby that she knew, she would always know. When the doctors said it was time for her to go to hospice, her children said: ‘We want her to die with Gabby.’ In the final days she wouldn’t eat, she’d lock her jaw. But she would always eat for me. One night I could see the fright in her eyes, and I knew it was time. My patients never die alone. Never, ever. So I climbed under the covers with her. And she passed away in my arms.”

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rocketo
26 days ago
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seattle, wa
angelchrys
28 days ago
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Overland Park, KS
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sarcozona
26 days ago
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May we all be given such care, especially this woman who’s given it to so many
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