Up, Up, Up

Zach Sobiech, an 18-year-old teenager from Stillwater, Minnesota died on May 20, 2013 from a rare form of bone cancer.

Zach was diagnosed with cancer at age 14. In May of 2012, Zach was told there were no more effective treatment options to offer him a cure. Upon his diagnosis of terminal cancer, Zach turned to writing and performing the songs that he wrote. Probably, the most well-known is Clouds, a ballad in which Zach says goodbye to his family and friends.

Zach Sobiech died at home and his life ended just as he lived, embraced by the love of his family, friends, and music.

On June 1, 2013, my wife’s sister, Donna, died from complications caused by pancreatic cancer.

Donna was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer just a little over six months after my wife, Diane, had succumbed to the effects of pancreatic cancer.

After most of a year spent in surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment, Donna was informed that there was no evidence of cancer. Then, a few months later, indications that the cancer was still there and worsening began to show up in test results.

Since there were no effective treatment options that offered a cure, Donna chose not to reduce the quality of her life even more by suffering through the devastating physical and mental effects of chemotherapy treatment.

Donna died at home and her life ended just as she lived, embraced by the love of her family and friends.

Donna is survived by a loving husband of almost forty years, three wonderful children and their spouses, and nine precious and beautiful grandchildren.

Today, I want to take a time-out from the laughter and drama of our new adventure to pay tribute to Donna and her family and add a few reflections and observations about her passing.

First, if death and dying can be done with dignity and grace, Donna and her family have proven it can be done. Donna and her family, her husband, children, and grandchildren, have certainly garnered faith, hope, and love from this tragic event in their lives. And, in so doing, they have shown us how we should live by the way in which Donna died.

Second, they have inspired me to try to be a better “survivor” and a better (grand)parent for Kaleb and Kenzie and my other grandchildren, Abby, Joe, Lauren, and Laney.

Third, I have been reminded that my loss and my grief wasn’t just my own. My children lost their Mother and my grandchildren lost their Nanna. And they won’t ever have another Mother or Nanna. Unfortunately, I was too busy suffering from my own grief to give much attention to their suffering. I hope I can start being a more supportive parent for my adult children.

Fourth, as I watched Donna’s young grandchildren cry and wail over the loss of their Nanny, it affected me deeply. She certainly impacted their lives and now that relationship is gone, lost. Sure, I’m a doting grandparent like many of you. And, I feel an overwhelming sadness when grandchildren have to grow up without the benefit of a lasting relationship with an attentive grandparent, whether it’s mine, Donna’s, or any grandchildren for that matter. So, I want to make time for all my grandchildren and savor every moment I have with them. And I want them to know me well enough that maybe I can impact their little lives like Donna did hers.

And, finally, when the tragedy of death brings an unexpected end to life, then from the perspective of eternity it’s just the end of the beginning. For Donna, eternal life is now beginning. And Donna’s family has demonstrated this hope to us all and they have done it well. The Bible says in 2 Peter 3:8: “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.” During her illness Donna’s family used this verse as an encouragement for her. They figured that if a thousand years is like a day to the Lord, then a person’s lifetime must be just a few minutes. So they told Donna not to worry about them. “We’ll see you in a minute!” they told her.

So, it was most fitting, maybe providential, and certainly quite moving and inspiring, that Donna’s children picked Zach Sobiech’s Clouds song to play at the end of the video of Donna’s life, which was shown at her funeral (see the complete video). Some of the lyrics to the song go like this:

We could go up, up, up
And take that little ride
And sit there holding hands
And everything would be just right
And someday I’ll see you again
We’ll float up in the clouds and we’ll never see the end 
And we’ll go up, up, up
But I’ll fly a little higher
We’ll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer
Up here my dear
It won’t be long now, it won’t be very long now.
Sister-in-law, you’ve gone up, up, up…
Now, you’re flying a little higher…
Now, you have a nicer view…
Now, you’re holding hands with your sister.
And now, everything is just right because
you’re floating in the clouds and you’ll never see the end!
Just be sure and tell your sister for us,
“We’ll see you in a minute!”


(I found this moving adaptation of the Clouds song on YouTube and would like to dedicate it to my brother-in-law, Danny,  and Donna’s kids, Braxton, Jill and Megan.)

9 thoughts on “Up, Up, Up

  1. Steve, thank you for this amazing tribute to Donna, so extra special, fitting and appropriate. And thanks for the dedication of the video to me, I am so honored! As you might guess, it moved me to tears, and tears, and tears! I loved every minute of it. You are a gifted writer and communicator.And thanks for being here with us for the memorial service for Donna. You and Kyle and Kim were such an encouragement to every one of us. I love you man!


  2. The impact of Danny and the kids on our family friends and the Roswell community will last forever. Death is a part of life on this earth…Danny, you have shown us how to cope with it all with grace n dignity. A life dedicated to God…..the cross makes the difference. Steve, thanks for your remarks. So candid n heartfelt.In a minute…we will see Donna.I love you. And many prayers during the days ahead.


  3. This comment posted on the PNA Facebook page by my friend, Debi: “Steve, as you know I never met this amazing woman, but I am sitting here wiping away the tears just the same. A beautiful tribute for a beautiful life.”


  4. Steve – I grew up with Donna, not only at Grace Assembly of God in Oklahoma City, but we were the Bass Clarinet players in the OKC US Grant HS band. Between church and band we had plenty of time for silliness. Donna had an amazing gift of making everyone feel like she was their best friend. I have a web site dedicated to the “old days” at Grace Assembly, which includes a memorial page. I included a link to your tribute to Donna there. I also added a link to the findagrave.com obituary and a photo of “Dink”If you would like to see it, and or would like to make changes or additions, please contact me at: suzisphone@gmail.comI live in Virginia, but am traveling at the present, visiting friends and relatives in Oklahoma, so my phone email is the best page to reach me. I will send you the link and the password.I was the High School librarian in Ardmore for the1977-78 school year. (literally a lifetime ago) My parents live in Tishomingo, and we go to Ardmore frequently when I visit. I so wish I had known that Dinky was so close. But, as you say, we will see her in a minute.Suzi Garrett ShoemakeJoy is my strengthGratitude is my attitudeGrace is where I stand


  5. Hi Suzi, Glad to hear from you and would love to see the Grace Assembly “old days” website. I know Dinky cherished her time at Grace Assembly and the lifetime friendships she made there growing up in the church. Send me the link to the website, would love to look at it. Thanks for your comments. It’s a small world, isn’t it?


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