The story of Zach Sobiech, whose song Clouds became an international sensation last year, continues to inspire people in a new book, Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom’s Small Prayer in a Big Way (Thomas Nelson, May 2014).
The 18-year-old died in May 2013 of osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that afflicts healthy children and teens and has no known cure.
His mother, Laura Sobiech, penned the book with the hope that it will bring more awareness to the cancer, which is largely underfunded, and to respond to the outpouring of support from people all over the world who contacted the family. The Register shared the family’s story last summer, shortly after Zach’s passing.
"It was far beyond what we could get our heads around," Sobiech said of the song’s — and her son’s — impact on the world.
"We were getting messages daily — and we still do — that the song touched their lives. It was obvious that God was working through the song and the story. That’s one of the reasons I decided to write the book — because there’s more to the story that people will benefit from."
The book captures the lives of Zach and his family, of Lakeland, Minn., and the medical and spiritual journey that began after he was diagnosed.
Both Laura and Zach had a sense from the beginning that God was asking something of them through this illness. As practicing Catholics — the family attends the Church of St. Michael in Stillwater, Minn. — their faith was the foundation that prepared them to endure everything through that lens.
"The book is not so much a story about Zach’s death as it is about his life and the meaning behind his suffering. That’s one of the things that the world found fascinating about him: that he was a kid in a hopeless situation who brought hope to the world through his music and his story, and that is also my hope for the book," stated Sobiech.
"If people can plug themselves into this story and whatever is going on in their lives, they can learn from Zach how to do it, because he did it so beautifully."
Clouds led to a celebrity tribute to the tune and a Soul-Pancake mini-documentary on YouTube that garnered more than 12 million views.
Soon after Zach died, the song became a No. 1 hit on iTunes and topped the Billboard charts. The iTunes downloads helped raise money for a fund set up by the Sobiech family to study the disease.
Ironically, just a year before Zach’s diagnosis, an international research team had assembled to study this particular cancer at the University of Minnesota, where Zach was treated. Last summer, Laura and her husband, Rob, got a chance to meet the team and present a check for $500,000, which seemed a pittance, given the millions of dollars spent on cancer research, Laura said.
But it can take years for nonprofits to raise the kind of money that they did in just a year and a half, and this was the seed money needed for the research.
The medical team is studying both the genetics and treatments for the disease and will be able to leverage what they find to get the necessary grant money for bigger studies that can hopefully solve the mystery of the disease soon.
The charity record label Rock the Cause released a deluxe version of Zach’s extended-play recording Fix Me Up: A Firm Handshake, along with videos and a copy of his mother’s book. Portions of the proceeds will go to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, which is nearing $750,000, said Laura, who continues to be amazed by her son’s legacy.
At one point, when Zach shared a room with a young boy who also had osteosarcoma, Zach told Laura that if he could he would die for that kid so that he could have his childhood back.
"He had a real sense of offering his suffering, being a channel of grace for the world. I think people are seeing that he found purpose in his suffering. Thank God for our Catholic faith, because it makes a little bit of sense out of it," she said. "Beyond this, people are hearing that song — and that was part of the message, too."
Live in Hope
In addition to raising funds to further research, Laura believes that the book will help people explore the true meaning of hope and the importance of living for today.
"I’ve been asked a few times to give advice to people who are struggling with similar situations. My best advice is to be open to God’s grace, to live in the presence [of God] with what you have today; because right now is where you will enjoy it," she said.
"That backdrop of death — the future we knew was coming for Zach — really can make the moments that are happening today more intense and more beautiful. You have to look for them. Don’t squander it by letting that [scary] future dampen it."
Barb Ernster writes from