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Resting Places / Chapter Nine: Weaving her religion

Mary Kociela of Montague, left, Patricia Morton of Chicopee and Yoko Kato of South Hadley bow their heads as the Rev. Peter Ives, right, says a blessing over the grave of Sherry Morton and her son Cedric at  Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Jan. 11, the  20th anniversary of their murders.


Mary Kociela of Montague, left, Patricia Morton of Chicopee and Yoko Kato of South Hadley bow their heads as the Rev. Peter Ives, right, says a blessing over the grave of Sherry Morton and her son Cedric at Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Jan. 11, the 20th anniversary of their murders. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

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 juice in a small cup for Cedric. She placed photos and toys in the shrine, including Cedric’s favorite Sesame Street characters.

As a child in Yokohama, Yoko had been taught that the first thing sets the tone. The first day of the year shapes that year. The first deed of a day shapes that day.

Yoko began to make a trip to the cemetery the first stop of each day. Visiting the cemetery, she realized, helped convince her Sherry and Cedric were dead. Standing by the temporary grave marker in the first months, she told Sherry and Cedric everything she was doing, and everything she was feeling. She told them she missed them.

She began to explore what religions say about death and loss, and her therapist, Cat Chapin, helped her widen her search. Yoko felt surprise that at the age of 47, religion was beginning to call to her. She had taken the girls to church when they were little, then stopped. Now she pieced together a religion of her own, reading everything she could find.

First, she looked for beliefs that spared the departed physical pain. The afterlife she wanted to imagine offered peace and safety.

Then she wanted more. She moved on to wondering about the world of spirits. When Jehovah’s Witnesses came to call, she listened, ready to skim cream off this faith until she learned its members didn’t believe in heaven. She studied a book called “Zen Seeds” by a female Buddhist monk. She felt no guilt adopting ideas on the grounds that they made her feel better — and tossing ideas that didn’t.

She came across a book written in Japanese by a Buddhist teacher. Appreciate what you have left and what’s around you, he had written. Let that appreciation bring you happiness. “He said don’t keep dwelling on what you don’t have,” Yoko said later. “It just makes you sadder.”

Some memories came from family members. She recalled her mother’s account of a near-death experience. She’d told Yoko about a vision in which she’d met ancestors in kimonos occupying a place beyond life. They told her she was not ready to join them; it was not yet her time. Yoko’s mother believed human spirits leave Earth like fireballs, with long glimmering tails.

One of Yoko’s aunts told her matter-of-factly that her late husband’s spirit had dwelled with her in Japan for 49 days before moving on to another place. Yoko bought dozens of books with religious themes and started giving them to friends and strangers — to anyone she believed shared a need to know what happened after life. She mailed them to people she read of in obituaries, especially to people who had lost children.




DATE: 3-16-93

CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Y. continues to be very protective of her daughter’s grave — actually shoveling it clear of snow even after nearly a foot fell recently. She is, however, gradually coming to feel less compulsion in her grief rituals & more comfort. Has begun to explore the traditional Japanese mourning customs of her family.


At one session with Cat, Yoko mentioned a book about Buddhism that she was reading. It’s hard not to believe in all religions, Cat told her, when you are looking for answers. “Why” questions are religious questions, she said. “We want so much to have somebody to have the answer. To just tell us, and then know that we’re not alone in our thinking.”

Religion, she continued, “means to be connected to things. That’s where the word comes from. Binding together. Tying together.” That can involve fusing observances and practices from disparate faiths and cultures, she said.

In her reading, Yoko came to believe that in heaven, things are prettier than on Earth, the colors more vivid. The red of roses is brighter; the water is cleaner. The air is soft and fragrant. She pictured Victorian buildings made of bricks and marble, and imagined herself being whisked there through space. “If you wish it, you get there,” she said.

The month Yoko created her shrine, a sister in Japan began adding toys for Cedric to the one in her home. Her brothers also maintained shrines for Sherry and Cedric.

One day, Yoko described to Cat how she had stood at a funeral in Spring Grove 10 feet from where Sherry and Cedric were buried. She had been attending many funerals since the murders and reading every word of the obituaries in the Gazette. The page with obituaries had never caught her attention before. She read it to learn who was on their way to see Sherry and Cedric. One funeral took her back to the Pease Funeral Home for the first time since the week of the killings.

Yoko was often upset to find that people visiting Sherry and Cedric’s gravesite had rearranged objects there. It felt like an invasion. She was unnerved, too, not to know who had been there. She would study the footprints in the snow, trying to judge the size and gender of the people who made them.

At Spring Grove, Yoko watched from a distance one day as two women walked up to Sherry and Cedric’s gravesite. Though eager to know who they were, she gave them time alone. One of the women noticed Yoko, so she went to thank them for visiting. Another time, she met a couple from Easthampton who had been following news of the tragedy. They told Yoko their son was married to a Filipino woman and their grandson looked a little like Cedric. It wasn’t the couple’s first visit to the gravesite. They liked the way Yoko decorated it.


Cat warned Yoko that she might eventually find funerals difficult to attend. “Other deaths wake up your own grief. .... You have enough grief to go around,” she told her in one session. “No matter how hard you try, Yoko, you’re going to be human.”

A woman close to death at the nursing home in Rochester, N.Y., where Jeannie worked knew about what had happened to Sherry and Cedric. One day, she asked to see a photograph of them, then told Jeannie, “When I get there I’m going to find them, and tell them how much her sister cares for you. How much they miss you.”

By summer, Yoko had worked into a morning ritual. She would light a candle in her bathroom, where she and Sherry used to sit and talk while Cedric played in the bath. The candle sat beside photographs of them. She poured coffee for Sherry and juice for Cedric. Then she would blow out the candle and go to work. When July came, she observed Obon, a five-day Buddhist festival of the dead. In it, belief holds, the spirits of the dead return to earth. When Yoko called her mother, the older woman reminded her, “Obon is coming. Sherry is coming home.’’ The year before, when visiting, her mother brought a small headstone representing her late husband’s memory. She fed him every day. Before going to bed every night, Yoko told Sherry that she would be with her, and with Cedric, after her own death. She added this thought: Don’t reincarnate before I get there.



GROUP NAME: Survivors of Sherry



DATE: 3-8-93

DURATION: 2 hrs.

GROUP PROCESS CHARACTERISTIS & ISSUES: Focus was on responses to recent bail hearing — the intense emotional buildup of dread & pain, the agonizing revelation of further details of the murders, the anger at the murderer’s family offering him support — and the final vindication of no bail set leading up to a let -down. ... in spite of all, Sherry & Cedric remain dead.

CLIENT PROGRESS & ISSUES: Yoko’s feelings appear to be much closer to the surface; it is plain much of her numbness has passed, though she continues to reach out to other survivors through letters & media. She is very aware of her anger at murderer’s family and expresses it with little apology & great directness.


Seated aboard a supersonic jet, Yoko settled a photograph onto her lap. It showed the shrine in her dining room, and in it, pictures of Cedric and Sherry.

The supersonic jet climbed up from New Jersey, through clouds and out over the Atlantic toward London. Yoko watched out her window. Soon, she was looking down on clouds and studied their shapes. She looked for clouds nestled in the forms of her daughter and grandson. She spoke quietly to them. “Where are you, Sherry? Cedric, where are you? Tell me where you are. I’m so close to you now. Show me something, Sherry, so I know you are OK.” Then the clouds fell away and Yoko searched for two together, one large and one small.

At 59,000 feet above the ocean, the sky above was black but starless. Yoko gave up searching the whiteness below and looked out into space.

Then she thought: maybe a shooting star? For an hour, she searched. She spoke to the photograph in her lap. If not a shooting star, she asked, how about some sparkles?

TOMORROW: A survivor prepares to face a trial’s facts.


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 Ten: Thoughts that need stopping

Friday, January 18, 2013

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 …

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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