Blue balloons with the words “Up, Up, Up” lined the sidewalk in front of St. Michael’s Church Thursday morning alongside paper chains with personalized messages, some of which read: "Find a cure for osteosarcoma."
The messages greeted more than 1,200 people who gathered to say farewell to their beloved friend, classmate and family member, Zach Sobiech.
Sobiech, a senior at Stillwater Area High School, died Monday morning at his Lakeland home after a battle with Osteocarcoma.
"We're here today to honor a kid who went down fighting and who didn't lose,” Rev. Mike Miller said. “Zach was someone who wanted everyone to know: 'You don't have to find out you're dying to start living.'"
Through music—specifically the hit song “Clouds” Sobiech wrote to say goodbye to friends and family—Miller said the teen was able to "touch people who were in a very dark place."
“He did it by giving them hope," Miller said. "He let them see a little bit of the power of Christ.”
Sammy Brown, Sobiech’s friend and songwriting partner, said she had a great time growing up with her dear friend.
Brown shared one of her favorite memories with Zach, which took her back to Halloween as second-graders at St. Croix Catholic School.
“We were all dressed up in our costumes—I was Miss America and Zach was a ninja—and at some point in the course of the day, Zach told me I should probably have someone to protect me since I was a big shot beauty queen,” she said. “Since he was equipped with all sorts of ninja weapons—not to mention his extraordinary speed and agility—he decided to appoint himself as my bodyguard for the day.”
That story, Brown said, always puts a smile on her face.
“Not because he was so stinking cute in that ninja costume, but because it shows a big part of who Zach was,” she said. “He had this overwhelming protective nature toward me and many others who he loved and cared for. He genuinely wanted the best for others, and was always willing to put the needs of others before himself.”
Brown also spoke of Sobiech’s sincerity.
“He had a knack for making the person he was with feel like they were the most important person in the world to him," Brown said. "The crazy thing about that is that, in that moment, they probably were. He truly cared for what people had to say—he really listened."
And that sincerity and honesty was a big part of what made Sobiech’s music so special, Brown said.
“When Zach picked up a guitar, you couldn’t help but be touched by him," she said, "not just because he was good, but because you could feel the passion he had for it radiating from his calloused fingertips.”
Brown also spoke of Sobiech’s strong faith, camping trips and his “goofy side.”
"Although Zach was very deep and thoughtful, I think it is very important to say how big of a goofball he was," Brown said. "He found great joy—perhaps a little too much joy—in teasing and poking fun at family and friends; and probably said things like 'poopypants' at least five times a day. He loved playing pranks and just saying outrageous things that came up from left field. I could go on and on about his antics—he was a very silly boy."
Life gave Zach a lot of things in his 18 years, Brown said.
“He was given cancer, and he never once complained,” she said. “He was given a guitar … and he used his passion to do so much good in the world. Life gave Zach a boatload of attention, and a taste of the rock star life—and he handled every ounce of it with grace beyond his years.”
Brown said Sobiech told her two things she will take with her for the rest of her life.
“The first was to remember him every time I eat a taco, because he really loves tacos,” she said laughing. “The other is that life is really just beautiful moments one right after the other.
"He has taught me to see beauty and joy in everything, and although today is very sad, it is also very beautiful. Because what's more beautiful than a congregation of lovely people celebrating the life of a beautiful young man? Life gave my friend Zach a lot, but life gave us Zach, and we can always be thankful for that."