Laura Sobiech was a regular, busy Midwestern mom, working in a dentist’s office while raising four kids. Her son Zach, then 14-years old, began feeling a pain in his hip and Laura heard the words no parent ever wants to hear from a doctor — “It’s cancer, osteosarcoma.”
Eventually, doctors ran out of treatment options for Zach, so Laura encouraged him to write letters to family and friends to say goodbye. Instead Zach chose to write songs, his lyrics providing the important, final messages he wanted others to hear.
As Laura began to come to grips with her son’s cancer, she prayed that if he must die, “I want it to be for something big”—and it most certainly has. When Zach passed away on May 20, 2013 at age 17, his fans pushed his song “Clouds” up to the #1 song downloaded on iTunes—the only time this has happened for a song backed only by a non-profit record label and primarily through social media exposure.
Through the dedication of his mom, family, the music industry, and his many fans touched by Zach’s eternal optimism and unstoppable smile, Zach has raised nearly $1,000,000 for osteosarcoma research for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund. (Please see also: A Portrait of Zach Sobiech.)
Fundraising was never on the radar screen for Laura. In fact, it was one thing she could never imagine doing. But there was a spontaneous outpouring of dollar donations from viewers and listeners who were deeply touched by Zach’s and his family’s story.
Laura also never imagined herself becoming a writer. “I’m a thinker but I did not know I was a writer,” she tells us. Throughout Zach’s journey, Laura updated friends and family on CaringBridge.org. Zach’s pages have evolved into much more than a place for updates on his condition for others—posting on CaringBridge became a way for Laura to heal emotionally during this devastating time.
“Writing became a way of reining in and taming the cancer and making it a little less scary—a way to pause in the midst of the battle and find shelter in the order of words. It allowed me to untangle emotionally, then somehow make some sense from the chaos in our lives, ” Laura explains.
Laura’s writing touched the hearts of so many people, often ones she’d never even met. Even though some of the readers never knew Zach, they could connect at the heart level with Laura as she waded through the trenches of painful and confusing times, hoping to make sense of tragedy. Her insights were something they could embrace in their own lives, regardless of the specific struggles they may have been experiencing.
When Laura began working on her book, Fly a Little Higher (Nelson Books, 2014), she reread her posts to help her remember the emotional details of her experience at each step of Zach’s illness. “Having the writing to go back to helps me when I miss Zach. We forget the intensity, and in rereading, the feelings are honored, which helps us never forget.”
So much of Laura’s personal healing came from the deluge of responses by those who read her posts. “I found that being vulnerable and raw could be a catalyst to healing. The exposure allowed me to see the impact I was having,” Laura says.
I asked Laura if she had any words of wisdom for us. She answered, ”Be authentic. People need to see your vulnerability because it gives them hope. It is how we all connect.”
Thank you Zach, Laura, and your entire family for sharing your story with the world and giving us hope and strength to carry on, whatever the burden.