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Resting Places / Chapter Fourteen: Facing up to forever

COURTESY OF YOKO KATO
Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in  1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993.

COURTESY OF YOKO KATO Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993. Purchase photo reprints »

NORTHAMPTON

The deer stepped out of the woods and advanced slowly through rows of gravestones. Lights were coming on in the houses that border Spring Grove, but in the deepening dusk, the deer moved almost unseen.

On the edge of the cemetery, a woman in a small green house finished her supper of asparagus on toast and looked out the window toward a black headstone. She watched the deer pause, then move closer to the place where the mother and child lay in a single coffin. The animal lowered its neck.

The woman moved to another window so she could see the deer better. When it raised its head, the neighbor saw its long tongue working greedily.

In the morning, Yoko found the birthday cake she had left the night before nearly gone. The card and flowers were undisturbed. She looked at the enameled photograph of Sherry and Cedric on the headstone, above the words “Love You.” Frosting clung to their faces.

•••

COLLATERAL CONTACTS

CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato

DATE: 6-23-93

CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Called to see how Y has been — last week very difficult — Cedric’s birthday hit very hard. Confirmed appt. 2morrow.

•••

PROGRESS NOTE

CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato

DATE: 6-24-93

DURATION: 1½ hrs.

CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Y feels this past week has been the hardest yet — has felt her pain increase more than she’d expected at Cedric’s 2nd birthday, which she celebrated by giving him a cupcake at his small shrine in her home, as well as by bringing cupcakes to the cemetery maintenance crew. Discussed the passing away of Y’s numbness, as well as the necessarily cyclic nature of grief. Y is again having intrusive thoughts / flashbacks. (Signed, Cat Chapin)

•••

One September morning a few years after the killings, Yoko took a different route to work so she could pass the Leeds School, where Cedric would have been enrolling for his first day in kindergarten. A group of mothers stood outside talking. Yoko hadn’t anticipated that. She thought of how she would have been there too, talking with Sherry.

She drove down the hill and took Route 9 past the veterans hospital. Less than a mile ahead, she took a left, drove past the middle school and turned into the cemetery. She walked to Sherry and Cedric’s grave and left some acorns that she and her husband had gathered on Labor Day from a park near the Quabbin Reservoir. Sherry had loved a Japanese song about acorns. At the grave, Yoko spoke to Cedric, as she had the night before at the shrine in her dining room, about starting school.

Jeannie called Yoko’s shop late that afternoon. They decided that if Cedric had been enrolled in the afternoon session, he might be having a snack now. They imagined his fresh haircut and new clothes. They debated what would be in his lunch box.

•••

At her session with Cat that week, Yoko sat with her arms crossed, a crumpled tissue in her lap.

“Why is it so important, that school starts?” she asked.

Cat took a breath. “I know I’ve said this before, but one of the tasks of grief is just to accept the fact of death. But you can’t accept it all at once.

“It’s the lunch box you didn’t buy. The first day of school you didn’t have. It’s a thousand separate deaths.”

“This loss of Cedric’s first day of school just happened,” Cat continued. “Just this week, Sean kept Cedric from having a first day of school. Thanksgiving is the holiday that Sean keeps Cedric from having a drumstick. Each holiday, each season. The pile of leaves that he doesn’t play in is something that Sean takes away.”

“It is like a spasm,” Yoko said. “You don’t know when it’s coming. You can’t be prepared. It really scares me.”

On a happiness scale of one to 10, Yoko felt she used to be a 10. After years of work to grieve the deaths, she measured her happiness and felt that she was now stuck at 4½. The ideal, she thought, was a 7.

•••

In the small and blurry color photo, a boy is jumping on a bed. As a visitor to Yoko’s dress shop explained one day, the picture was taken in unit 2821 at Meadowbrook, Sherry and Cedric’s former home.

It was news to Yoko that someone was living there again. The man showed Yoko the photo, taken by an outfit called the Ghost Chasers. There is no child living in the apartment, he said. The man also told Yoko that toys with no batteries in them had been moving. Someone even took them to Radio Shack to have them checked out.

Ghost Chasers had shot two rolls of film, the man informed Yoko, and might be persuaded to sell her some. He said he knew how much Yoko missed Sherry and Cedric.

Yoko had been waiting for a long time for evidence that Cedric and Sherry were not suffering in the afterlife. The photo tantalized her, but she remembered an earlier trauma with a psychic in Springfield. She called the police.

Detective Dorothy Gagne drove to Meadowbrook, where she’d responded the night of the killings. She spoke with people at the complex and studied the photo. The woman living in unit 2821, the second tenant since the killings, said she’d gone to Spring Grove to make peace with Sherry and Cedric. Yoko learned that a priest had gone to the apartment and had blessed the room where Sherry and Cedric died; a psychic had visited as well.

Gagne told Yoko it was not a picture of Cedric, and said that it might have been created to extort money from her. The man who’d brought her the image was known to police. His mother lived at Meadowbrook.

•••

Cedric had never been to the beach Yoko pictured in her meditation, so she wished him there. She felt guilty going without him, and so Cat asked Yoko to allow it to be. When Sherry was in college in Connecticut, she and Yoko would visit this beach, a few miles west of New London.

An expanse of Long Island Sound stretched out before them. Gulls quarreled near dented trash cans. The sounds of surf and far-off voices scrambled across the sands.

So many times, Yoko had shut her eyes and listened to Cat’s voice summon this place. It was as if Yoko was up above with the gulls, looking down on Sherry and herself.

In Yoko’s meditation, she and Sherry stop, slip off their sandals and step into the sand. They move on, carrying their towels and satchels. They lie close together on matching towels from Yoko’s bag. A breeze carries the smell of seaweed, which reminds them of Japanese food and makes them hungry.

You may wish to go exploring on the beach, Cat told Yoko.

She comes upon Cedric, his baggy swim trunks damp and sandy. She and Sherry take turns rising up off their towels, in Yoko’s imagining, to watch him play in the waves. Though he is just a toddler, Cedric’s steps are strong and sure as he runs along the moving line of water.

•••

PROGRESS NOTE

CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato

DATE: 3-2-05

DURATION: 1 hr.

CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Yoko reflected today on her sense of mission regarding domestic violence. She thinks often of how many people may have heard Sherry’s screams the night of the murders, and yet done nothing. That, and her sense that if only she had known more before Sherry was killed, perhaps she could have stopped it, drive her to impress on others the seriousness of violence. She esp. wishes Sean’s violence had been identified & treated when he was a child.

Y feels comfort in the (new) awareness that the question “Why didn’t Sherry leave?” is less appropriate than “Why was Sean allowed to go on being violent so long?”

•••

CASE CLOSING SUMMARY

CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato

DATE: 6-26-96

DIAGNOSIS: PTSD

DISPOSITION: Case closed

CONDITION: Significantly improved

SUMMARY: Yoko was seen in our Homicide Bereavement Program from 2-10-93, one month after the murders of her daughter, Sherry Morton, and her grandson, Cedric. Yoko has participated steadily in weekly individual psychotherapy counseling, as well as two specialized homicide bereavement groups. She has moved through initial stages of shock and paralysis, through tremendous grief and pain, and now finds herself able to continue her healing through outreach and activism against domestic violence. While not fully “healed,” Yoko has clearly found new meaning and connection to life. (Signed, Cat Chapin)

•••

For three nights, Sherry and Cedric came to Yoko’s dreams, rewarding her long wait. In the first dream, early on a July morning, they were patients in a hospital, injured but alive. Cedric lay on one of two beds in the room. Yoko could see animals moving in the trees outside. They looked like bears. Sherry had scars on her face, but evidence of the attack seemed nearly erased.

Sherry was to receive physical therapy on her hand and on her injured eye. Yoko had been told that they would be released from the hospital in a month.

Sherry, you look good, Yoko said. You just need a little makeup on, then you’ll be OK.

Sherry asked for a newspaper so she could study the help-wanted ads. Yoko said she wanted to buy her a bigger bed, instead of the single bed she and Cedric had slept in together.

I like this one, Sherry said. I like a small one.

No, Yoko told her.

She woke. Afterward, Yoko pictured herself holding Cedric in her arms by the window, so he could see the animals in the trees.

The next night, Yoko dreamed she was home with her husband and Sherry. At one point Sherry told her: Mom, don’t leave here. There was alarm in Sherry’s voice and it woke Yoko.

The next night, Cedric was a baby again and they were on vacation in Canada. Yoko watched him by herself, enjoying being a grandmother. Together they trekked across the city. Cedric soiled his diaper and vomited, so Yoko began searching for their hotel. They rode an elevator up the wrong building. In another building, she felt the elevator falling under the weight of too many passengers. People cried out. When the car hit the ground, they spilled out. With Cedric still in her arms, Yoko found herself walking beside water, as if on a pier. A gust pushed her toward the water. She told Cedric they might be blown in, but the wind reversed and lifted her up.

Standing again, she felt flooded with relief. Then the dream was over and she was in her bed.

Yoko lay still for 20 minutes, then managed to return to a dream with Cedric. He was again his age when he died, 18 months. He was wearing three shirts and two pairs of pants. She took off one of the shirts and one pair of pants, then all of them, because she needed to change his diaper. He squirmed away from her and started to run about naked.

He called to his grandmother, saying something that made her laugh. He ran again, and Yoko followed.

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