As the rainbow of balloons rose above the church Friday night - their colors in contrast to the storm clouds overhead - Gail Fitzpatrick thought of her friend.
Friends and relatives of Lakeside High School Spanish teacher Cathy Ferko stand at a vigil for her Friday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church. Mrs. Ferko died Sunday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"That's how I see Cathy: a lot of different colors, a lot of different layers, fun to look at and when you look at it, very inspirational," Fitzpatrick said.
Cathy Ferko's long battle against breast cancer ended Sunday morning, just two days after her friends and family gathered at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church to celebrate her life.
"Cathy was so vibrant and lively. She's just a vital part of the school and community and we'll miss her being there," said Lakeside High School counselor Janice Williams, who most fondly remembers Ferko's bravery and humor while battling breast cancer. "She handled the situation so positively. She was a witness to her faith."
Lakeside High School senior Anju Mammen remembers Ferko teaching verb tenses to the tune of the Macarena.
Kyle Fitzpatrick, who knew her from church, remembers Ferko checking out his funky T-shirts.
For Kate Carey, it was like losing a parent.
"She's like my mom," said Carey, a Greenbrier Middle School eighth-grader and Rachel's Ferko's best friend. "I know God will take care of her, but it's heartbreaking to see her go. She is the most Christian woman I've ever met. She's going to be missed. She's just so awesome."
During Friday night's vigil, many wrote their memories of Ferko on red and yellow slips of paper. In the days before her death, Ferko listened to Fitzpatrick read the thoughts and feelings of those who loved her.
Friends and family will have one more chance to say goodbye: Ferko's Mass of Christian burial will be 7:30 p.m. today at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church with the Rev. Robert A. Cushing officiating. It will be followed by a reception in the church social hall.
Her family - husband Gary and two young daughters, Rachel, 13, Regan, 8, and mother, Maxine Farabaugh - already had made funeral arrangements. Fitzpatrick - St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church's youth ministry director - was by her bedside last week.
"We were around her bed singing Oh Shepherd Me, Oh God, a song the family had selected for her service, and when we were singing it to her she opened her eyes and nodded, like 'Yeah, I like that,"' Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick was called back to the home after Ferko, 40, died around 6:45 a.m. Sunday.
"They were just relieved she was out of her suffering," she said. "The little ones are adjusting. We were glad we could do this on Friday. It was really good for them to hear all these wonderful things people had to say about her."
She said the family will continue to receive support from the church through their Ministry of Care.
"You've got to really fight to get rid of us," Fitzpatrick said. "Until we see that there is some normalcy there, it won't stop. It will continue for as long as they need us."
Ferko - known affectionately as Senora Ferko - was diagnosed last fall with breast cancer. She underwent treatment and was in remission, but discovered about a month ago that the cancer had returned. She had been out from work since then and was at home in hospice care. She had taught at the school since it opened in 1988.
"We had psych services here this morning," Becky Barden, Lakeside High School associate principal, said Monday. "I spoke with all the counselors yesterday and they cleared their calendars to be available for the students and the faculty who needed to talk. I did make a brief statement this morning and we had a moment of silence, reiterating not the impact of her death, but the impact of her life on us. Our students, because it was expected, for the most part took it well. Everybody stood up strong today. It was amazing."
The amount of money the school raised to help the family speaks to their feelings for her. Bekki Matthews, media specialist in charge of coordinating fund-raising events, said as of Friday, $7,941 had been collected, and more is expected to roll in.
Students and staff agree that Ferko has been inspirational in battling her illness - this year going to radiation therapy before coming to school, said Lynn Mertins, media specialist. After she lost her hair, she would have fun with her wigs, one day wearing a Willie Nelson wig with braids and a bandana. At graduation, when the graduates tossed their hats, she tossed her wig, revealing the year 2002 in pink paint on her head.
A 16-year teaching veteran, Ferko received her bachelor's degree in Spanish from Gannon University, Erie, Pa. and she did her graduate work at Augusta State University. She taught high-school Spanish, first in Erie, Pa. at St. Benedicts Girls Academy. After she married and the family moved to Augusta, she continued her teaching career, first at Evans High, then at Lakeside.
A visitation with the family was held Tuesday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, followed by a prayer vigil.
Anyone wishing to make a memorial contribution can do so in lieu of flowers to the St. Joseph Hospital Hospice Unit 2260 Wrightsboro Road, Augusta, GA 30904, or to her parish, St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Building Fund, 117 Pleasant Home Road, Augusta, GA 30907.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.