Resting Places / Chapter Two: The path of patient No. 40110
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
Soon after the killings, Yoko went in search of counseling. She drove to her doctor’s office in Florence and waited for a psychotherapist in a room lit by skylights and floor lamps and decorated with a colorful quilt. Behind a counter, staff clattered away at keyboards.
When she was called in, Yoko found herself pouring it all out – anguish over her daughter Sherry’s disfigurement and the pain of losing Sherry and Cedric, her grandson. Yoko’s health insurance provided for 10 such sessions a year. The doctor suggested a sedative, but she didn’t like the idea of numbing herself. She went back a second time, and a third. Then the therapist told her he had a conflict and couldn’t continue meeting with her. He didn’t say why, but Yoko learned he counseled inmates at the Hampshire County Jail. Sean Seabrooks, the man arrested for the killings, was being held there.
Yoko transferred to a second therapist, who had not been given any case notes. The therapist suggested medication. Yoko lasted two sessions. A third therapist saw her twice before bowing out, saying she had no experience with homicide bereavement. Yoko had used up seven of her covered visits.
Then a counselor came in search of her. Cat Chapin climbed the stairs to Yoko’s downtown dressmaking shop to meet not just with Yoko, but with several of Sherry and Cedric’s closest friends. Unlike the psychotherapists at the HMO, Cat, a licensed clinical social worker with a group called Clinical & Support Options, knew what killings do to the people left behind. The first session ran three hours. Cat told Yoko and the others grief was a foreign country with its own landscape. She told them she had a map.
She signed Yoko up as client number No. 40110.
CLINICAL & SUPPORT OPTIONS
DATE: Feb. 1, 8, 1993
ANY CRISIS IN CLIENT’S LIFE? On January 11, Sherry Morton & her son Cedric were murdered. Client is Mother & Grandmother of the victims.
WORK: Has own business
FAMILY INFORMATION: Lives with husband ... victim’s stepfather. He is uninterested in therapy.
MEDICAL HISTORY: Diabetes and migraine headaches.
DIAGNOSIS: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Yoko was barefoot and wearing a terrycloth robe when she went to answer the door of her home in Westhampton. Two police officers stood outside. It was Jan. 12, at four in the morning. Inside in the living room it was warm. The officers came in and stood with their backs to an unlit fireplace. Yoko sat on a couch.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“They were killed tonight.”
“Cedric?” Yoko asked.
“Sherry and the baby were killed tonight.”
“Sean did it?”
Yoko ran to the bathroom and vomited.
The officers stayed to help her call her older daughter, Jeannie Banas, in New York state. Yoko was able to dial Jeannie’s number. When her son-in-law, Paul, picked up, Yoko asked for Jeannie, and then began screaming. A detective took the phone. Your sister and nephew were killed tonight, he told Jeannie. Jeannie heard her mother shouting: “Sean did it.”
Jeannie hung up and turned to her husband. They’re dead, she told him. Just as her mother had, she ran to the bathroom and threw up. Then she fell to the floor and cried. Later, she walked through her apartment and cried some more, turning over photographs of Sherry and Cedric so she wouldn’t have to look at them. She came upon a bag of clothing Sherry had just returned and put it behind a plant so she wouldn’t have to look at that, either. At 6 a.m., she and Paul got into their car.
Later that morning, Yoko looked at the TV and saw a reporter standing in front of Sherry’s apartment in the Meadowbrook complex. She heard the reporter say, “The victim’s body was found right behind me.” Police had not yet released names.
When a commercial came on, Yoko called Eileen Curran at Channel 40 in Springfield. The two were friends. “Hey, old married woman,” Curran said, for Yoko and her husband, Rad Nutting, had just married.
Yoko told Curran the victim they were talking about on the morning news was Sherry. Later, Curran called back and asked if she could come to the house in Westhampton with a cameraman.
Yoko had been making phone calls. She called her sister Junko in Yokohama, where it was midnight. Junko asked her if it had been a gun. Yoko replied that it had been a knife, and said she knew no more than that.
It was snowing when Curran arrived. They set up for an interview at the kitchen table. The cameraman’s lights flooded Yoko’s face. The house was filled with friends by now and the microphone picked up the sound of people crying.
Yoko sat with her back straight and talked about what had happened. She said that Sherry and Sean had an on-and-off relationship, and that he had once struck her and pushed her from a moving car in Holyoke.
Jeannie arrived in time to see the interview on the noon news. She was shocked to hear her mother describe Sherry and Sean’s relationship as violent. When the story aired, the station included footage of Sherry’s body being carried out of the apartment building in a black bag. Yoko ran to the bathroom and was sick again. After rallying for the interview, Yoko weakened. She didn’t leave the house for four days.
Early that afternoon, two people from the Northwestern district attorney’s office arrived. They spoke in the room where Sherry usually stayed when she came over. Sean was being held by police, they said.
Yoko asked where Sherry and Cedric’s bodies were. No one said how Sherry and Cedric had been killed.
For months during psychotherapy, Yoko and Cat Chapin spoke in a gabled space at the People’s Institute in downtown Northampton, with a box of tissues on the table, a plump white sofa with wooden arms and legs, a lamp with a brown burlap shade, two clocks and many books. From Cat’s couch, Yoko could see a book about sculpture in India. Nearby was a big figurine of an elephant wearing a crown. The elephant reared up on its hind legs in a display of power.
The book collection was heavy on death and dying. Many people passing through her office wanted to read about angels, Cat told Yoko one day.
“Why?” Yoko asked.
“You tell me,” Cat said.
Grief is deeper after a murder, Cat told Yoko many times. The more a person suffered when being killed, the harder it is for survivors to live with their thoughts about it, she said. It is harder, too, when there was no chance to say goodbye. The full loss, in fact, becomes clear to a survivor only in degrees, piece by piece.
That, Cat said, may be the only way the person left behind can live through the loss. It is a safety mechanism, like a circuit breaker that trips.
Sherry and Cedric’s deaths would continue for months and even years as a series of smaller deaths, Cat told Yoko, to be mourned every time something that was once in store for them failed to happen. A birthday. A first day at school.
CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato
CLIENT # 40110
DURATION: 1½ hrs.
CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Session today focused on Y’s feelings of guilt & responsibility for not preventing Sherry’s death — these thoughts taking two forms 1) I should have recognized how dangerous Sean was and 2) perhaps Sherry was killed because my history as a battered woman set her up to be a victim in turn. Y seemed very vulnerable & fearful. After exploring these thoughts & feelings, I explained a little of the dynamics of battering — that there is no predisposing personality type among battered women as among batterers — as well as the inevitable developmental factors that led Sherry to believe she was safe. (Signed, Cat Chapin)
At the heart of it her feelings, Cat told Yoko one day, was guilt. Nothing more complicated than that. Yoko was feeling guilt just as she might feel heat or cold.
Many things drove Yoko’s sense of guilt, including regret over leaving all the funeral arrangements to Jeannie. She planned her own funeral, so Jeannie would not have to do this for her.
When people are tortured by feelings like guilt, they look for the thing they’ve done wrong, Cat said. What rules have I broken? How have I erred? They persecute themselves. But the source of guilt can be far simpler than that, she said. If Yoko could see it that way, she would not have to torture herself about mistakes she may have made. Cat asked Yoko to consider this, too: When emotions can be shaped into stories and shared, it lightens the burden.
COMING MONDAY: Preparing to bury Sherry and Cedric and reaching out to listeners, at their funeral, about domestic violence.