Laura Sobiech is the author of “Clouds: A Memoir,” a book that chronicles the final year of her son Zach’s life before he passed away from osteosarcoma in 2013. Her book has been adapted to the big screen in “Clouds,” an original movie streaming on Disney+ this fall. Fin Argus will play Zach Sobiech, and Neve Campbell will play Laura Sobiech.
When Laura Sobiech’s 14-year-old son Zach was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer, she decided to start a blog. At first, it was to keep family and friends updated on how Zach was doing as he underwent intense cancer treatment. But when she found out Zach’s cancer was terminal in 2012, it became a place to store precious memories for later, memories that would help her get through days where she knew she’d miss Zach.
She never imagined that just three weeks after Zach passed away, she would be asked to turn that blog into a book about the final year of her son’s life, a life he lived to the fullest while knowing he was dying.
We asked Laura Sobiech a few questions about her book, “Clouds: A Memoir,” writing while grieving and sharing her family’s faith with the world.
When did you decide you wanted to write about your family’s experience for a book?
A friend’s agent had been reading my blog for months and following Zach’s story, and she asked if I’d be interested in writing a book. I knew I wanted to write about it, but a book sounded so intimidating… but I decided to follow Zach’s lead and say yes to opportunities that came my way. That’s what he always did in the last year of his life – say yes to things – even when it was scary. So I said yes.
What was it like, emotionally, to revisit so many of your memories of Zach while you were still early in the grieving process?
It really was agony. There were lots of tears, but it was also really good timing because I was writing right after Zach died so everything was still so fresh. Strangely, the hardest parts to write were the happy parts, I think because I was still early in the grieving process, so I wasn’t really there emotionally. It’s hard to write about times when you were happy and laughing while you’re so far from that place emotionally.
What scenes in the book were the most important for you to get right?
The one I really wrestled with was the chapter about the morning Zach died. I had to decide if that would be too much for people, to describe it how it really happened. Ultimately, I decided that if the reader had followed me all the way to that point, they deserved to be there with us at that moment. That chapter just flowed right out of me, because I was still waking up thinking about that morning every single day. I was still right in that emotional space.
What moments made you feel particularly vulnerable to write about?
Writing about the week before Zach died was really strange. In the book, I talk about how waiting for Zach to die felt like being nine months pregnant – you’re scared and just kind of pacing, waiting for this big, painful thing to happen. You know it’s coming, but you have no idea what life is going to be like after. I was worried that was going to come off as too weird to people, which is understandable… How is waiting for your child to die like being pregnant? But I think for anyone writing a memoir, it’s going to fall flat unless you share those parts in your own way, even if you’re worried that people might not understand.
“Clouds: A Memoir,” you talk about some difficult moments you had with your husband, Rob, and your other kids. How much of the book did they get to see before it was published?
They got to read it before everyone else, but nobody in my family read any of the book before it was final. I know that was scary for them, because we had some difficult conversations during that last year of Zach’s life… we weren’t perfect, we clashed. It was a little tense sometimes, and it got a little ugly. But we talked about how important it was to be real, because the purpose of the book was for people to see the hardship and to see that even as imperfect people, we got through this. They had to trust me to tell their story from my perspective, and to their credit, it took a lot of courage for them to trust me with that.
“Clouds: A Memoir” has been taught in several schools now and has been a popular book club book – what parts have you seen stand out most to readers?
With kids, they always want to know more about Zach, what kinds of things he liked, how he moved through the world – I think they relate to him. With other readers, they definitely wrestle with the scene where Rob and I talk about what we’d do if Zach was dying on the day of our oldest daughter Alli’s wedding. We knew those two things were going to happen close to each other, and we had to decide if they were happening at the same time, where did we need to be? And we chose Alli’s wedding. People really have a hard time with us deciding that. But Zach didn’t want us to miss the wedding; it was important to him that his sister have her day. And, while the thought of being away from Zach was gut-wrenching, WE wanted Alli to have her day too – we wanted to have the memory of her parents at her wedding to carry into her future. I wrote about that because I wanted people to understand… that’s the kind of thing we had to sit down and decide, we didn’t have the privilege of not making that decision. (Zach died 11 days before Alli’s wedding, and Laura and Rob were there for both.)
You talk a lot about your Catholic faith in the book. Why was that an important component to include for you?
That’s what got us through it. I include that piece because I want people who are just like us, everyday, average, normal people with no extraordinary gifts, to look at us and see people who have gone through really hard things and survived them. I was certain that I was not going to survive losing a child, but I survived it, not because of anything special about me, but by God’s grace. Plus, I love that when it comes to faith, I have some “street cred” now… I can talk about faith and people actually listen. I’ve put that faith muscle into action, and it works. I pray for thick skin all the time, and sometimes I still feel like tissue paper, but I rely on God’s grace to be ok with feeling that way because it allows me another level of empathy. My point of putting any of this out there is that if I can touch one life, if I can help one person in the way that Zach helped so many, I’m happy.
“Clouds: A Memoir” is available by pre-order now on Amazon. Don’t forget to stream “Clouds” when it premieres on Disney+ this fall.
Join Zach’s Movement to End Osteosarcoma
Before Zach died, he and his family started the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund to raise funds for researchers developing better, safer treatments for the disease that took Zach too soon. Join Zach’s Movement to learn more about how you can support the fight to end osteosarcoma.