Catherine’s Kindergarten is the story of a mother’s emotional journey to confront her grief after the death of her only child, juxtaposed with her physical journey to a remote Nepalese village to open a school in memory of her daughter.
My name is Kaye Cleave and I am that mother.
My grief journey began more than twenty years ago when I left my home in Australia where I’d raised my daughter for the anonymity of San Francisco. At night, I would lie awake in my attic apartment, in a gracious Victorian overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, listening to the moaning foghorns guiding ships home. I felt adrift, with no safe harbor; my insides whirling with guilt and shame.
I’d failed as a mother to protect my child. I
n San Francisco, I had a chance encounter with a young Nepalese student. Born in Lalu, a tiny village nestled in the shadow of the snow-capped Himalayans, Prakash had suffered great losses too. He shared with me his dream of building schools in the remote district surrounding his village. I was inspired and wrote a children’s picture book to fund a kindergarten in memory of my daughter.
When the school was completed, I flew to Kathmandu. From there, I boarded a tiny plane to fly to Western Nepal, then boarded a crowded bus for a hair-raising journey, and the following morning, embarked on a grueling hike up a mountain to reach Lalu. I invited an American friend to accompany me and film the journey. James turned out to be the perfect companion —good-humored, resourceful and unbeknownst to me, a talented cinematographer.
By the time we arrived in the village, I was exhausted and emotionally wrung out. Stripped of all my familiar supports—loving friends, yoga classes, meditation community—even the basics like running water, electricity and Western bathrooms. After a sleepless night in a rudimentary hut, I had a meltdown just thirty minutes before the start of the official ceremony to open Catherine’s Kindergarten and adjoining hostel for orphans. “It’s a good thing I’ve done,” I sobbed, “but it won’t bring my daughter back.”