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 Nepalese mountain village to open a school in memory of her daughter.
I am that mother.
My grief journey began twenty years ago when I left my home in Australia for the anonymity of San Francisco. I remember lying awake in my attic apartment, in a gracious Victorian overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, hearing the moaning of foghorns guiding ships home. I felt adrift, with no safe harbour, and my gut whirled with guilt and shame: I’d failed as a mother to protect my child.
In San Francisco, I met Prakash, a young Nepalese student. Born in Lalu, a remote village nestled in the shadow of the snow-capped Himalayans, he had suffered great losses too. When he shared his vision of building ten schools in the district surrounding his village, I was inspired and wrote a children’s picture book to fund a kindergarten in memory of my daughter.
Once the school was completed, I flew to Kathmandu. From there, I boarded a tiny plane to Western Nepal, then hired a car to drive into the mountains, and the following morning, hiked tirelessly to reach Lalu. I had invited an American friend to accompany me and film the journey. James turned out to be the perfect companion —good-humoured, resourceful and unbeknownst to me, a talented cinematographer.
By the time we arrived in the village, I was exhausted and feeling vulnerable. Stripped of all familiar supports including friends, yoga classes and a meditation community— even basic needs like running water, electricity and Western bathrooms. Alone in my mountain hut, I had a meltdown thirty minutes before the start of the official ceremony to open Catherine’s Kindergarten and the adjoining hostel for orphans. “It’s a good thing I’ve done,” I sobbed, “but it won’t bring my daughter back.”