A Square Meal, Regardless

John Gallagher (l) and Cedric Chambers at their “everything-must-go” yard sale in Machias, Maine, in 2007. (Photo by Jenny Calivas.)

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Jen Nathan produced “A Square Meal, Regardless” in 2007 and she’s been reeling from the experience ever since. So much so that she didn’t want to be interviewed when I featured this story last year.

“A Square Meal, Regardless” follows the last days of John Gallagher with his caring friend Cedric Chambers. John is dying of cancer and Cedric radically changed his life to take care of him.

Throughout the weeks John and Cedric are together, Jen recorded interviews and documented their daily lives. She says being there — a stranger with a microphone — felt uncomfortable at minimum and morally wrong at worst. She thinks of it as trespassing on an incredibly private moment especially since John and Cedric were uneasy about her visits.

For years, she was haunted by documenting this story.  Only recently has she come to terms with it. I’m very thankful she agreed to speak with me for HowSound.

Please have a listen to this remarkable story — one of my favorites from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Then tell us about times you felt uneasy about your work.

Best,

Rob

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8 comments to A Square Meal, Regardless

  • Erin Cisewski

    Thanks Rob(and of course, Jen). I think this episode puts to words the uncomfortable uncertainties many of us producers feel but can’t necessarily name. I very much appreciate the honesty put on the table here. A square meal of food for thought, regardless!
    ~Erin

  • I love the episodes that connect to each other and make a little mini-series – like this, and like the two “sit with me” episodes

  • I left this comment on the Saltcast blog last week when I heard this story for the first time, but since I listened to the story again today, I thought I would leave the same information here.

    I found Cedric’s obituary online, and it says he died in the home he was born in on 10/25/09.

    That part in the middle of the story where Cedric says, “We’re not afraid.” That gets me every time.

  • Bianca Giaever

    Hi Jen, I wanted to thank you for sharing this story. I had a similar experience on my first journalism piece, also five years ago. I was just 16 when I set out with encouragement from my journalism teacher to write about a student at my school who had terminal brain cancer. His name was Nick Sears, and luckily he and his family were very open to me. But my role as a journalist became confusing. While I was interviewing Nick he came to confide in me as a friend, and even developed a crush on me. I even went to one of his chemotherapy treatments with a photographer. When the piece came out he was appreciative, but I couldn’t help feeling conflicted. While he was sick and dying, I felt some guilt as I was published and received awards and money. A year later he passed away, right as I was accepted into colleges (with help from the piece I wrote no doubt). I’m still proud of the piece and happy I wrote it, but it still haunts me from time to time. It’s nice to know that there are others out there who’ve had similar experiences and I’m glad you had the courage to share your story.

  • Rob Rosenthal

    Bianca — Really nice of you to write and share this story. I’ll be sure to forward it to Jen. Thanks again for writing. Best, Rob

  • [...] How Sound, “A Square Meal Regardless” [...]

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  • Kaylyn Messer

    I know I am coming to the comments on this story a few years late. I really wanted to thank you for featuring this story and for Jen’s honest comments on the difficulties of covering such an intimate topic. The story is one of the strongest I’ve heard in a long time and it is an incredibly touching piece that brings to light the current state of aging with families living far and wide. I can understand Jen’s concerns, conflict, and feelings – but I am also very thankful that the piece is out in the world for others to hear.

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