Show of support: Foley’s followers gather for one-last goodbye

  • Penacook Elementary School fourth-grader Holden Turner, 9, visits former principal Chris Foley with his parents Jeremy and Heather Turner outside Concord Regional VNA’s hospice house in Concord on Friday Elizabeth Frantz photos / Monitor staff

  • Children gather to visit with Chris Foley, 39, at Concord Regional VNA's hospice house in Concord.

  • People light candles during a vigil for Chris Foley on Friday at the Concord Regional VNA’s hospice house.

  • People gathered to hold a vigil and visit with Chris Foley, 39, at Concord Regional VNA's hospice house in Concord on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Foley left his position as principal of Penacook Elementary School in March after being diagnosed with cancer and entered hospice care in late August. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Penacook Elementary School student Chris Babonis, 9, and his mother Nevia say hello to Chris Foley outside Concord Regional VNA’s hospice house in Concord on Friday. Elizabeth Frantz photos / Monitor staff

  • Former colleagues from William Allen School in Rochester visit Chris Foley outside Concord Regional VNA's hospice house in Concord on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Friday, September 08, 2017

Though the sky menaced them with the threat of rain, Chris Foley’s followers were prepared – they had brought their own spots of sunlight.

They brought candles, real and fake, as well as flashlights and lanterns to Concord Regional VNA’s hospice house Friday night, drifting in pairs and groups, and sometimes alone, to gather in the parking lot. There was some conversation, but most were quiet – until the house’s door opened, and Chris Foley, their hero, came out, surrounded by his family.

Most heroes are greeted with stomping, clapping or cheering, but that wasn’t the case Friday night. Instead, the crowd began to sing, almost pleading, for their sun not to go away.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” they sang. Adults held onto each other for strength; children tucked themselves under their parents’ arms. The lights danced in everyone’s eyes, often made brighter by their tears.

“Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Those gathered at the hospice house came to say goodbye to Foley, the adored former principal of Penacook Elementary School. Foley was close to finishing his fourth year at the school when a seven-inch sarcoma tumor was discovered in his stomach in March.

Though he tried to combat it with surgeries and chemotherapy, the Foleys found out last week – one week after the family’s newest member, William Christopher Foley, was born – that the cancer had spread to his ribs, lungs and skull. Treatments, they were told, would no longer be effective.

There has been a river of support for the Foleys since the initial diagnosis, a river that has steadily overflown its banks within the last week. Friday night, friends, students and colleagues came together to make sure Foley knew just how much he means to them.

For former students and parents, it was a chance to show how his lessons changed them.

“He was always really nice to everyone,” said Ava Sprueill, 11, who had Foley as a principal before transferring to Broken Ground Elementary, where she briefly had Foley’s wife, Lindsey Foley, as a teacher.

It’s hard, Ava said, to think about Foley being sick; she doesn’t like to think about it too much. But she wanted to come anyway.

For Jennifer Farrow of Rochester, where Foley used to work as an assistant principal at William Allen School, the vigil was a chance to show Foley a reflection of her son one last time.

“For two years he and my son did a twin day together,” said Farrow. “He always had this lanyard he spun, and on that day they waited outside, dressed alike spinning and spinning a lanyard.”

Farrow pulled out her phone and clicked open a picture. It’s her son, Jackson, and Foley, decked out in Boston Bruins gear and athletic flip flops, their faces serious. Jackson opted not to come to the vigil, Farrow said.

“He knew he couldn’t do it,” Farrow said, wiping away a tear. “He’s having a really hard time.”

Former colleagues had also made the hour-long trip from Rochester to say goodbye. For Kirsten Truax, a second grade teacher at William Allen, it was a trip she would have willingly made five years ago.

“We all cried when he told us he was leaving,” she said. “His staff would have gone with him to Penacook, if we could.”

Patricia Croteau, also a William Allen teacher, said Foley’s presence can still be felt at the school. “We all talk about him from time to time,” she said. “He was such an upbeat, fun guy.”

Foley has to know, everyone agreed, what they meant to him before his time is up. So they lined up in front of him, approaching in pairs and groups to drop their lights off in front of him.

Some stayed for just a moment, others a few minutes; rarely did anyone leave with dry eyes. Throughout it all, Foley stayed strong.

“How are you?” he greeted them, the half smile everyone knows so well. He asked them about their summers or their sports or their new school, simple enough things that showed he was paying attention.

Sometimes, all he could offer was comfort.

“You’re going to be okay buddy, okay?” he said to one child with a face curled in anguish. “It’s going to be okay.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)