Eileen Marbeck is likely to die not knowing what happened to her daughter 17 years ago, as the grieving mum's family rally in the last months of her life.

Sara Niethe disappeared in 2003 but it wasn't until 2013 that Mark Pakenham was jailed for manslaughter in her death.

He's never told the family where her body is. He even retracted his statement that her death was caused by a drug overdose, so he wouldn't be convicted of her murder.

But now Niethe's family are trying to do the best they can to make the last days of 74-year-old Marbeck's life as comfortable as possible as she succumbs to cancer.

Marbeck took over responsibility for bringing up Niethe's children, forcing her to take on extra responsibilities and stress.

Niethe's brother Lee Marbeck says the shock of the cancer diagnosis was still setting in as they only found out a few weeks ago. She's been given three months to live.

Eileen Marbeck had suffered stomach pains for the past 18 months but medical staff had put it down to symptoms from Crohn's disease, which she also battles.

But that wasn't the case.

Niethe's son, Dion Chamberlin, says it was hard but at least they knew what they were dealing with, not like his mum's disappearance.

"With regards to what we are going through now I guess it feels strangely reassuring in comparison to what we've dealt with before. While it is heartbreaking to see Nan so ill, it feels manageable because we know what we are dealing with. I don't feel completely useless."

It wasn't just his nan who wanted some closure, but the whole family, he said.

"With [Mum's] body still missing you're always going to hope that there's an end to this saga. It's not something that's ever going to leave Nan's mind. She's always going to wonder without the knowledge of what happened. It's always going to sit there as a hope and a dream.


"I don't really care what Mark's doing with his life now but he's the only one that can give that, and if he has any intent of ever attempting to make amends the time is now or never."

The family have set up a Givealittle page to try to make the remainder of Eileen Marbeck's life comfortable and to help her live that time how she wishes. That includes making key alterations to her house, which has been in dire need of repairs for some time, says Lee Marbeck.

"There is a couple of grand in [the givealittle] page now. Specifically, at the moment, Mum's old cat has passed its days and it's just started to go to toilet in the house whenever it wants and the carpet in Mum's room is finished so I'm just trying to get that sorted.

"Her house has not been in a great state for a while now and during this time we all want to occupy ourselves and help Nan out, so I think fixing the house is a nice thing to do for her, try to be active, and stay positive rather than sit around and mope about the situation."

Eileen Marbeck made a garden to mark a year since her daughter Sara Niethe went missing from her Kerepehi home. Photo / NZ Herald
Eileen Marbeck made a garden to mark a year since her daughter Sara Niethe went missing from her Kerepehi home. Photo / NZ Herald

Lee Marbeck said his mother was not likely to qualify for chemotherapy because of her age and frailty.

"If you're not well enough then they don't believe that you're up to the chemo because it's quite taxing on your immune system and energy levels they just don't offer it to you."

Instead, they want to make what is left of her life as comfortable as possible.

Eileen Marbeck's diagnosis is yet another heartbreaking blow for the family who still have no closure as Pakenham won't reveal where Niethe's body is.

It's a heartache that Marbeck will likely have to take to her grave, even as she holds out hope of learning more of her daughter's death.

"I think [she wants to] just to find out what happened more than anything else. Mark took his statement back and just made [drugs] up so he wouldn't get done," Marbeck said.

People wishing to donate can click here.