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.
SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »
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 - 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.”
CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato
DURATION: 1 hr.
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.
CLIENT NAME: Yoko Kato
DURATION: 1 hr.
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.