Memoir by Zach Sobiech's mom shines through the 'Clouds'

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2014 - 4:39 PM

The Lakeland teenager became an international sensation after he was diagnosed with cancer and wrote a farewell song titled “Clouds.”

It turns out that Zach Sobiech wasn’t the only member of his family who can inspire people through words.

The Lakeland teenager became an international sensation after he was diagnosed with cancer and wrote a farewell song titled “Clouds.”

Now his mother, Laura Sobiech, has written a moving book that she hopes will help other families.

“We never felt that this was just our story,” she said. “We have a responsibility to share it for those people who don’t have a chance to tell their stories. We do it for them.”

“Fly a Little Higher” (a line from “Clouds”) traces the family’s journey from the day in 2009 when Zach, then 14, developed a mysterious limp, until his death last May from osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

The book, which will be released Tuesday, isn’t as much about death as it is about life, love and hope. While the relentless progression of the cancer is always present, Sobiech focuses more on everything else that was going on around it. There are passages that generate misty eyes, but also ones that draw laughter.

“Humor became a very important part of our journey,” she said. “There was joy mingled with the sorrow; it came hand-in-hand for us.”

Addressing “the innermost truths of the human heart,” Sobiech holds nothing back, openly exploring everything from the strain her son’s illness put on the rest of the family, to the anxiety that kept her awake at night, to the role her faith played in helping her cope. That includes the time she went to a movie with a friend, an evening she enjoyed immensely, only to come home to find Zach in agony.

“I didn’t sleep at all that night,” she writes. “I felt like I had failed my son and had no way of making things better.”

But the story isn’t over yet. A fund that Zach established is raising hope for other victims of osteosarcoma.

“All these beautiful and amazing things blossomed from this story of suffering, and I think that’s an important thing to follow up with,” she said. “Because that’s where hope is found. So that’s what we’re trying to tell to the world: ‘Look, this was hard, it was awful, it was intense. But it was also beautiful and hopeful.’ ”

For those not familiar with Zach, he was about to start his senior year at Stillwater High School when he learned that he had only a few months left to live. The guitar-loving teen wrote a farewell song to his family and friends.

“Maybe someday I’ll see you again,” he sang. “We’ll fly up in the clouds, and we’ll never see the end.”

“Clouds” became a worldwide phenomenon, garnering more than 10 million YouTube views. Donations from 70 countries raised more than $500,000 for the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund. As part of a cancer research radiothon in December, 5,000 people — five times the turnout that organizers were hoping for — crowded into the rotunda at the Mall of America to sing it.

Money from CD sales and downloads of that song and others that he recorded have raised an additional $200,000-plus for his namesake fund. Proceeds from the book will go to the fund, as well.

“What a gift, to be able to see the fund growing, giving meaning to what this kid went through,” his mother said.

A year after Zach’s death, the teenager continues to amaze his mother.

“I knew his music was good, but I’m his mom, so that doesn’t really count,” Sobiech said with a laugh. “But as I kind of step away and listen with critical ears, I love what he’s done. The lyrics of those songs are just so powerful and wise. I am intensely proud of him.”

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  • An excerpt from Laura Sobiech's 'Fly a Little Higher'

    Wednesday April 30, 2014

    Zach kept his emotions tucked away pretty tight. He never seemed caught off guard by the bad news, but I...

  • Laura Sobiech took a line from her son Zach’s hit song, “Clouds,” for the title of her book about how his struggle with cancer affected their family.

  • Laura Sobiech's "Fly a Little Higher"

  • Alli Sobiech married a week after Zach died. She held his photo in this family portrait.

  • Laura Sobiech events

    Release party: Mall of America rotunda, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Includes a book signing, Q&A with Laura Sobiech, as well as performances of music written by Zach Sobiech and a video documenting the year since his death.

    Book signing: Lowell Inn, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., May 30; 102 N. 2nd St., Stillwater.

    Book signing: Chapter 2 Books, 6 to 8 p.m., May 31; 226 Locust St., Hudson, Wis.

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