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Resting Places / Chapter Ten: Thoughts that need stopping

  • Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are shown in a photograph on a program for the graveside service held for family and friends at Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Jan. 11, 20 years after they were murdered. <br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are shown in a photograph on a program for the graveside service held for family and friends at Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Jan. 11, 20 years after they were murdered.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

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

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

  • Sherry Morton and her son Cedric are shown in a photograph on a program for the graveside service held for family and friends at Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Jan. 11, 20 years after they were murdered. <br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • COURTESY OF YOKO KATO<br/>Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in  1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993.

NORTHAMPTON - During a pretrial hearing in the murder cases against Sean Seabrooks, the prosecutor screened TV news footage outside Meadowbrook Apartments the morning after the killings. Sherry and Cedric’s bodies had just been taken out. Hearing the reporter’s voice again, Yoko Kato broke into a sweat, then ran shaking from the courtroom, sick to her stomach. Out in the hall, she closed her eyes and counted to 10 forward and backward.

A staffer from the district attorney’s office followed her out. She told Yoko not to show such emotion again, because it might give the defense grounds for a mistrial.

Yoko promised to keep her emotions in check in the courtroom. But to do that, she needed help from her therapist, Cat Chapin

Cat told her to bring a photograph of Sean to one of their sessions. Yoko was to look at the photo and push her hand out, palm forward and fingers raised, as if halting traffic. “Stop,” she would say aloud. Then it would be quiet in Cat’s office, as Yoko waited to see whether her runaway thoughts would obey. She drilled on the technique before court appearances.

One thought she wanted to stop concerned the knife. After learning it had been left in Sherry’s body, Yoko called the district attorney. “Don’t worry,” she remembers the DA saying. “It was a short one.”

That was no solace. “I’ve felt the pain. I’ve felt the knife go through my body,” Yoko would say later. “Every time I read the paper or see any little thing, it stabs me again and again and again. What she went through. She was helpless. She couldn’t reach me. She couldn’t reach anyone.”

Yoko found she was processing grief by looking at the worst of what happened. Sherry was trying to protect her only child, she said. “I can feel every pain in her body and in his body. The poor thing didn’t know. His own father, who he trusted the most. Cedric knew the pain when he sliced his face. That his father could do that. In that little mind, what did he feel? ... For Sherry to witness the man, the baby’s father, doing that in front of her eyes. Not an accident. She couldn’t help him. She went crazy.”

Sean wrote to Yoko twice from jail in the weeks after the killings. Northampton police officers came to her shop to open the envelopes. She felt one letter blamed her. In one passage, Sean wrote that what happened shouldn’t have happened, but took no responsibility.

One day, Yoko took her single-engine plane up and circled the grounds of the Northampton jail, wanting a glimpse of Sean, or just to see what life there allowed. If she’d had a bomb, she might have dropped it, she said later.

She dug for facts about the places Sean might inhabit as a prisoner. In Peter Remick’s 1975 book “In Constant Fear,” she read about inhumane conditions in a notoriously antiquated state prison. While the author’s aim was to spark reform, Yoko didn’t recoil from the degradation depicted in the book.

She was not the only one stalked by such thoughts. A shopkeeper further down Main Street told Yoko he believed everyone should get a chance to stab him. A pilot friend told her he’d like to be put in a room alone with him. Another man came into Yoko’s shop to tell her he’d seen Sean in jail. “I saw him all day, everyday,” he said, “and I felt like hitting him in the head with a frying pan.”




DATE: 4-6-93


CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Session focused on cognitive techniques for controlling for limiting intrusive recall. Y has now been completely w/o sleep medication for 10 days. Reports no nightmares, relatively few night wakings. Spoke also of meeting a co-worker of her daughter’s for the first time — and of the satisfaction of learning more about her daughter’s life.



DATE: 4-13-93


CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Discussion of thought-stopping ritual as effective tool for coping w. grief. ... While encouraging Y to set limits as she feels appropriate, cautioned against need to be a “model survivor.” (Signed, Cat Chapin)


Though Yoko was intent on stopping bad thoughts, might good ones help her heal? She treasured memories of Sherry from the last weeks of her life, provided they didn’t bring spasms of grief.

She enjoyed telling friends about her daughter’s job. For her first interview at Van Cort Instruments, Sherry had arrived wearing Yoko’s clothes. The two women were the same size and it felt natural for Sherry to climb into her mother’s clothes; she had modeled them in bridal shows for years. They sometimes wore matching purple overcoats. The company’s co-owner sent other applicants away after meeting Sherry, Yoko liked to say. Sherry became the first in her class at the Northampton Skills Center to land a job, even before the course ended.

On the first Friday in January, just before the killings, Yoko and Sherry had gone grocery shopping together, pushing two carts through Big Y in Northampton. Sherry seemed absent-minded. Earlier, at Cedric’s daycare, Yoko overheard her speaking with a teacher about Cedric, saying that she and Sean had argued in front of him. Yelling made Cedric cry.

A week earlier, Sherry had told Yoko that she and Sean were no longer a couple. Yoko had urged Sherry to go easy on him. Sherry wanted Sean to be a good father to Cedric and remain connected. But he had seemed quiet, Yoko remembered, when he’d come with Sherry and Cedric to visit Yoko and her husband Rad Nutting in Westhampton over the holidays.

Yoko noticed Sherry was starting to pay less heed to Sean’s moods. That worried her. When she had been married to Jim Morton, he had hit her when she asserted herself. She’d learned, before getting out of the marriage, to keep her head down and not draw fire. She urged Sherry not to speak as abruptly to Sean.

Memories like that now fell into the category of thoughts she had to stop.

As they made their way through the aisles at Big Y, Yoko couldn’t get Sherry to volunteer what was happening at home. Afterward, in the parking lot, Yoko noticed Sherry had left Cedric’s bottle on the roof.

The next day was Sean’s birthday, but as far as Yoko knew Sherry didn’t contact him. Sunday morning, Sherry phoned her mother around 7:30 and asked if she and Cedric could come over. When they arrived, Yoko noticed that while Cedric was dressed in one of his nice outfits, Sherry looked harried. She hadn’t put on makeup — and she always put on makeup, even when visiting her mother.


Cat began guiding Yoko through a meditation in their sessions. She created a tape that enabled Yoko to be transported, whenever she felt overwhelmed, to a Connecticut beach she and Sherry once loved to visit.

Hear the sound of each breath, Cat says on the recording. A gathering of breath, and a pause, and a flowing out. Breathe naturally, she tells Yoko. Breathe, and relax, and, when you are ready, begin to hear something else entirely.

Yoko would lie on Cat’s couch and take in her soft instruction: Hear the crashing of waves in your own chest. Let that sound of waves come to you. Breathe in — and see before you a wave gather its force; exhale and watch the wave come up the beach as surf, a long, cool and loving stroke that reaches you, hissing, as foam.

Yoko hears Cat’s voice enter her body. She listens for the sound of a gull, as Cat has suggested, and practices feeling the tickle of sand against her heels as she and Sherry lie on their backs. The sound of water, the music in the voices of laughing children, the warm sand supporting her legs. Radiant sun on her chest and belly. Sun-warmed sand under her arms, her shoulders, her back.

Yoko knew this was all in her mind, the same mind that retained the knowledge of Sean’s knife. But with practice, Yoko felt relief here at this beach.

Concentrate, Cat says, and you can feel grains of sand against your feet. Wriggle your toes. Hear seagulls calling. Hear waves crashing. And the golden light of the beach. The golden light comes into you.

TOMORROW: The gift of making a difference.


Resting Places / Chapter Nine: Weaving her religion

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - A few weeks after the killings, Yoko Kato took up a ritual her family practiced in Japan. She created a shrine to her daughter and grandson in the breakfast room of her home and began to speak to them every morning. She shared the day’s first foods with them in the Shinto Buddhist manner, coffee for Sherry and …

Resting Places / Chapter Eight: Five days in March

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON On March 3, 1993, not two months after the murders, a Northampton court held a 2 p.m. hearing on the terms of Sean Seabrooks’ bail. Jeannie Banas attended and that evening called her mother, Yoko Kato, to tell her that the knife used to kill Sherry and Cedric had been left in her face, near her eye. The next …

Resting Places / Chapter Seven: One mother's flight to safety  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - “How has the week gone?” It was Cat Chapin’s opening question to Yoko Kato, as the therapist sat in a rocker decorated with a halo of ivy leaves painted gold. They met Tuesdays and Thursdays for weeks, then months, across Northampton’s seasons. The question to Yoko was vague by design. It allowed Yoko to begin with good or …

Resting Places / Chapter Six: Night of threats foretold 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Sean Seabrooks began harassing Yoko Kato with phone calls shortly after he started dating her daughter Sherry. Yoko would answer and he’d say nothing. Calls came day and night, to her home and to her dress shop. A Northampton detective traced some of the calls to the shipping department of Merriam-Webster in Springfield, where Sean worked. Others came …

Resting Places / Chapter Five: Bundles of sympathy

Friday, January 11, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Every day the mailman delivered bundles of letters to Yoko’s dressmaking shop, each installment bound in a rubber band. The first week brought hundreds. The owner of a lingerie shop a few blocks away sent a card saying she and her partner were praying Yoko could find strength to live one day at a time, aware of the …

Resting Places / Chapter Four: Lives in a carton

Friday, January 11, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - A week after Sherry and Cedric’s funeral, Yoko Kato drove to Northampton and opened her dressmaking shop. It was Jan. 19, the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Sherry had asked her to watch Cedric, so Yoko had no appointments with customers. She removed the “closed” sign that her lawyer had put up for her …

Resting Places | Chapter Three: Baptism at the vault

Thursday, January 10, 2013

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, …

Resting Places / Chapter Two: The path of patient No. 40110

Thursday, January 10, 2013

NORTHAMPTON 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 – …

Resting Places / Chapter One: Dreaming it to be ... one woman's road through loss

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: Twenty years ago this evening, a young woman, Sherry Morton, and her 18-month-old son Cedric were murdered by the boy’s father inside their Northampton apartment. Today, the Gazette presents the first chapter of “Resting Places,” an account of how one relative, Yoko Kato, faced the challenge of living without her daughter and grandson and in time helped bring …

Resting Places / Chapter Eleven: The gift of making a difference  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - A week after the killings, women dressed in aprons and carrying pots and pans gathered at 7:30 a.m. on the Coolidge Bridge to decry family violence. It was the first demonstration of the Women’s Action Coalition-Western Massachusetts. The second came four days later, when a dozen members gathered downtown, with Yoko Kato present, to hold signs and distribute …

Resting Places / Chapter Twelve: A father’s testimony

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Three weeks after the deaths, Sean Seabrooks had arrived at Hampshire Superior Court in shackles to enter a plea of innocent to two counts of murder. When the prosecutor described the number of wounds Sherry Morton and her son Cedric suffered, he began to cry. A judge ordered an examination into whether he was competent to stand trial. …

Resting Places / Chapter Thirteen: Pieces you can’t put back together

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NORTHAMPTON - Yoko Kato could still picture the life her grandson Cedric had lived. In her newest memories he was standing on the couch by the front windows of her dress shop downtown. He would bounce across the cushions like a man on the moon, just tall enough to look over the back of the couch and out onto Main …

Resting Places / Chapter Fourteen: Facing up to forever

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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 …

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