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Resting Places | Chapter Three: Baptism at the vault

Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are featured in a photograph on a program to the 20-year graveside service held for family and friends in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on January 11, 2013.

SARAH CROSBY

Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are featured in a photograph on a program to the 20-year graveside service held for family and friends in Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on January 11, 2013. SARAH CROSBY

NORTHAMPTON

Waiting for the funeral, Jeannie and Yoko slept together on the big velour couches in Yoko’s living room, with the lights on. Jeannie was afraid to go to sleep. She wondered how her mother would get through calling hours at the Pease Funeral Home on Elm Street.

Jeannie was at the funeral home when Sherry and Cedric’s bodies arrived, the day after the autopsies and just a few days after the murders. She and Sherry had gone to school with Ken Pease’s daughter, so Jeannie had been inside the funeral home before. They had even seen the embalming room. Now Jeannie heard Sherry and Cedric’s bodies descend on a clanking elevator. Pease told her that he needed clothes for them, and photographs to display at the calling hours the next evening. She drove down to the police station and arranged with a detective there, Bob Dunn, to go to Sherry’s apartment.

Jeannie could feel her breathing change as she and Dunn neared Meadowbrook. Police were still examining the apartment, three days after the killings, and were going through the trash, which they had spread out on the floor. Dunn warned Jeannie that she would smell chicken, as well as sour milk from a bottle prepared for Cedric.

Jeannie found a photograph of Sherry and realized only later that it was out of date, taken before Sherry started wearing her hair in a bob. As for clothes, she was at a loss. She picked out underwear, but couldn’t find the bra that she knew was her sister’s favorite. She chose tights and black stirrup pants and a multicolored Christmas sweater, because she was afraid it would be cold. She found two outfits for Cedric and took them both.

At the funeral home, she walked around a basement showroom and looked at coffins. The prices worried her; she thought she would be paying for two until Pease told her Sherry and Cedric could be buried together. She picked up a satin pillow and laid her cheek against it, to test its feel. Pease handed her the one personal article of her sister’s that police had not wanted to keep as evidence: an imitation-pearl barrette that Sherry had been wearing in her hair. Jeannie closed her fist around it and cried for the first time since coming home.

In the work room, Pease laid Sherry on her right side, with her right arm extended, inside the dark polished coffin Jeannie had chosen. He placed Cedric on his back across his mother’s outstretched arm and then arranged Sherry’s left arm across her son. The cut on Cedric’s chin had bruised in the minutes before he died and Pease hadn’t been able to hide the wound, so he tried to position Sherry’s hands to make it less noticeable. He wet his finger with a bit of Sherry’s favorite perfume, Giorgio, and touched it to her cheeks.

Jeannie started to make a list of things she wanted to put in Sherry and Cedric’s coffin: a pack of Marlboro Lights, Sherry’s brand. A small ruby ring that belonged to Jeannie, which Sherry had taken to wearing. Pease wasn’t able to get the ring on Sherry’s finger so he put it in a small bag and placed it on her stomach. An assortment of toys for Cedric, including his favorite Sesame Street characters, Bert and Ernie.

Coming into the funeral home, visitors signed a register near the door and made their way past a summertime photograph of Sherry smiling broadly, wearing a crewneck sweater and with her hair pulled back. On the day the photo was taken, she had dressed Cedric in denim overalls and had rolled the sleeves on his white cotton shirt up high. She held him tight against her chest, their faces inches apart.

More than 400 people signed in — Yoko’s customers, fellow Northampton shopkeepers, teachers and friends of Sherry’s, many attending their first calling hours.

Amid the murmur of the crowd, Jeannie looked at the coffin and let the shiny bulk of it, the fact of it, help her get used to the idea that Sherry and Cedric were gone. She began worrying that she’d given the wrong bra to Pease. Maybe the shoes were wrong, too.

Then she heard her mother call out. She looked around in time to see Yoko drop to the floor, then begin screaming. Jeannie turned to the person she thought was standing beside her — Sherry — and said aloud, “I can’t believe she’s doing this in public.”

Later that day, a friend of Yoko’s from New Hampshire called the house and asked the people who had gathered there to sing “Happy Birthday” to Yoko, who was turning 47. A bad idea, but people sang anyway.

Yoko had refused to look at Sherry and Cedric in their coffin. The next day, she woke up thinking that it could have been empty.

On the day of the funeral, Yoko and Rad drove to the cemetery early. Hoping for a private service, they had decided with Jeannie to have the burial before the church service downtown. Jeannie had selected a plot in a new area at the Spring Grove Cemetery, not far from the middle school she and Sherry had attended. Yoko walked with Rad past the other graves, unadorned in midwinter, then felt her legs going out from under her. Rad held her up. When they got to the plot, with Sherry and Cedric’s names on the copper-colored vault that contained the coffin, Yoko retched into the snow.

Cedric had not been baptized and so they took care of that now. Yoko wanted that sacrament to be sure Cedric would be allowed into heaven and had asked Fred Pojen Lee, a friend and minister, to say the words. Fresh-cut flowers surrounded them, their petals crisp in the cold. Sherry’s friend Michael Quinlan was to be Cedric’s godfather, Jeannie his godmother. Yoko wondered how Sherry and Cedric were arranged inside the vault. She wanted to be able to picture them now. After the baptism, a friend of Jeannie’s handed her a single rose from the top of the vault. Jeannie, too, now buckled and cried.

Inside the sanctuary of the First Churches on Main Street, where the morning’s gray light nudged color from a high bank of stained-glass windows, the pews were nearly full.

Joseph DeFazio, a Northampton lawyer, spoke on behalf of the family. He’d met with Jeannie and Yoko and had organized their thoughts onto typewritten pages that read a little like a closing argument. Yoko and Sherry wanted him to make three main points.

DeFazio told mourners that Yoko and Jeannie had a message for victims of domestic violence or those at risk: “You are beautiful, you are worthy, you are loved. You must seek help; you must protect yourself.” Through DeFazio, Yoko and Jeannie urged people to learn the causes of domestic violence and listen for the symptoms. They urged people to come forward to help victims, and also help prosecutors.

“If a friend or acquaintance is in a violent or potentially violent relationship,” DeFazio said, “help, be supportive and continue to help, even if your friend returns to the relationship.”

Then DeFazio spoke about what Cedric had meant to the family. “Cedric was loving and loved,” he said. “The blood that flowed through Cedric was Asian, African, European and American. Yoko and Jeannie want all of us to see Cedric as a symbol of love from the union of different cultures and races and the symbol of hope that all people can live together in love and peace.”

After DeFazio spoke, more people took turns at the pulpit. Yoko and Jeannie had a hard time listening. It seemed too final.

TOMORROW: Jeannie returns to Sherry’s apartment and Yoko must track down a death certificate.

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This series is haunting, heartbreaking, and beautifully written.

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