Remembered as a mother who put her family and others first despite battling cancer for more than seven years, Wendy Sorensen Vaka was honored by her children and siblings at her funeral services on Nov. 24 at the Laie Hawaii Stake Center.
A longtime resident of Hauula, a BYU–Hawaii graduate in accounting, and a longtime university Financial Services employee, Vaka passed away on Nov. 14, 2018, in Sandy, Utah. She was 45.
Her sister, Linda Dossett, said Vaka’s greatest roles in life were being a mother to her five children and a wife to her husband, Pongia. “She was their greatest cheerleader.” She said Vaka taught them life skills and how to follow Jesus Christ through her words and actions.
Her oldest sister, Camille Sowards, gave the eulogy talking about how Vaka’s desire to raise her children overshadowed the pain she endured in her fight against cancer. “I knew she wanted to stay here and raise her children,” she said.
Sowards said Vaka told her she didn’t care about her cancer. She cared about her children. “She would say, ‘I only have cancer on Mondays when I go to the doctor.”’ Then the rest of the week she would drop-off and pick up her children every day from school, go to all their games and recitals, attend every parent-teacher conference, fulfill her church callings and outwardly didn’t show her struggle.
Dossett added, “Cancer was the price Wendy paid to come closer to God. Angels bore her up.”
Vaka’s 8-year-old son, Lavemai, whom she fondly called baby because he was her last child, spoke at his mom’s service, sharing a conversation he had with his older sister, Elena. He said he was willing to give his mom his lungs so she could live. His sister replied she needed a kidney, not lungs, and if he gave his lungs to his mom, he would die. Lavemai said he told Elena, “I would die for her. I love her that much.”
He ended his comments saying how much he will miss her kisses every day after school and how much he loves her.
Elena also spoke at the service, talking about her bond with her mother since she is her only daughter. “She is my No. 1 BFF,” said Elena. “Whenever I am sad or upset… she would know how to cheer me up – and my brothers – because she is our mother and knows all her children.”
She continued, “My mom is my idol. She inspired a lot of people because she has fought through cancer for seven and a half years. She is the greatest person I know. She accomplished so much. I wish she could have lived longer for me and my brothers because it will be hard to live without her.”
Vaka’s oldest son, Michael, spoke at her services as well, saying he will miss his mom picking him up in the family van with the radio always tuned to 96.3 and her chicken curry dinners. Michael said he “hopes to live as my mother lived. No one shall ever take away what my mother has given me.”
Her son, Ammon, was the last of the family members who spoke at Vaka’s services and joked, “Looks like they save the best for last.” He said his mother “was the most likable person I know. She knew everyone on the island.” Ammon said once when they were at Costco, he waited for what seemed like an hour for his mom to talk with a lady she ran into at the store. He asked his mom afterwards how long she had known the woman, and Vaka responded she didn’t know her. She had just met her that day.
Ammon said his mom would let them climb into bed with her and they would talk. He said he asked her during one of these discussions what she wanted to be, and she said she always wanted to be a mother. “That meant a lot to me,” he said.
Ammon shared when their grandma called and told them their mother wasn’t doing well during her visit to Utah and they should fly there, he prayed to Heavenly Father to let he and his siblings get to Utah before she passed away to tell her they loved her and say goodbye. They did make it to Utah in time, he said, answering his prayer. His mom passed away at 12:02 a.m. living long enough to make it through his brother Issacs’ birthday. After his mom’s passing, Ammon said he cried a lot by not as much as he thought he would because “I got to say what I wanted to say” to his mother before she went to the other side of the veil.
Dossett said Vaka never wasted time and would call family members as she was driving to or from appointments to catch up with them, find out what they and their children were doing, and share what Vaka’s children were doing. She said Vaka was proud of her family on both sides, the Sorensens and the Vakas, and that she regularly did family history work and temple service for them.
Sowards said even though her sister, who was born on the mainland in Pennsylvania on Aug. 22, 1973, and grew up in Nebraska, was interested in the Tongan culture even before she married her Tongan husband. She was only white girl in the Tongan Club while attending BYUH, Sowards said, and told people her dream was to marry a good Tongan man and raise a family, which she did. “She loved her husband, Pongia, and the little Tongans they created,” she said. Wendy and Pongia were married in the temple on Aug. 1, 1998.
Vaka’s brother, David, echoed Sowards comments during his talk at the service saying, “Her most important dream was to find a good Tongan man and have a family. We have watched her create and live her dream. She had the courage to dream and made them her reality.”
David, who is a dentist, said his sister’s connection with the Tongan community extended from Hawaii across the ocean to Tonga, which he found out during a service trip he made to Tonga. Talking with people there, he said Wendy seemed to be more popular than her husband, Pongia, because people told him about all the times and ways she had served them. He added she loved people and was always willing to help them come unto Christ.
“She was passionate, spirit-driven and always steadfast in her testimony of the gospel and love of the Savior. She chose to live with joy,” he said.
Her brother, Daniel, said at her services, whenever they visited here in Hawaii, Vaka always greeted them at the airport with leis.
At the request of Pongia, Daniel also shared a dream his wife, Vickie had recently about Vaka. He said his wife had never known Vaka when she had her trademark long, wavy, blonde hair. The treatments for cancer had robbed her of her hair several times. His wife’s dream had two parts, he said. In the first part of the dream, his wife saw Wendy standing before her looking ill and wearing one of her hats on her head. He said the thought came to her mind to not be afraid for Wendy and that everything will be okay. Then she saw a bright light come up behind Wendy and Wendy was transformed. She had her long, blonde hair again and her blue eyes were filled with light, Daniel said. The light grew brighter than the sun, his wife said, and she saw Wendy with the biggest smile on her face. She said she knew Wendy was happy.
Daniel concluded saying he knows his sister, Wendy, “will be watching over her children.”