If you haven’t seen my post on Facebook Friday, here it was:

My dad’s roommate of a year and half, passed away this morning. Closer to my age than my dad’s – Steve,  a wonderful man who looked out for my dad in every way possible. He filed a complaint on my dad’s behalf, he would make sure my dad had a hat or jacket with him when venturing outside. We made plenty of noise as a family in ‘their room’, their dorm room – so to speak. I am heartbroken actually and didn’t anticipate feeling this way. Steve became a part of our extended family, whether he realized it or not. I should have told him. He will be sorely missed – as my dad already does. He told me he just lost the best friend he had there.

Steve Zich, a fireman from the Evanston and Wilmette areas, retired likely due to his disease. He had been living at the VA home for about 4 years I believe, however had been at another location prior to Manteno, but even much farther from his family.  Steve long suffered from MS and Parkinson’s. I just learned that Crohn’s Disease and other horrible conditions have been a part of his decline. In the past couple of months, my dad noticed more than we did – Steve’s decline. He would say Steve was having a harder time talking and maybe even eating. Steve had told me once that he feared having to rely on a G-tube, like my dad, and felt he was headed in that direction.

Sometime around 6am, an overnight nurse called Steve’s daughters at home to deliver the dreaded news. They had to wake up, understand what they were hearing, and get on the road from Skokie to rush to Manteno. My dad was waiting for them when they arrived, and they consoled each other that morning.

The last time Steve left to go home (to Skokie) was over the 4th of July 2015, for a few days with extended family. It seemed as though they all had a great time. He said, when he returned to Manteno, that he felt it was the last time he would see his home, and outside the Manteno VA home, other than a hospital. Just last week, I saw Steve coming back by ambulance on a stretcher and asked what was going on – and he assured me it was all routine and that he was fine and I should not worry.

Often, my dad would notice and comment about Steve eating candy a lot throughout the day. We told him to ignore it and wondered if there was some jealousy, since my dad could have nothing. Even at Steve’s birthday last May, I brought him a card and some candy, but did so discreetly – so as my dad would not notice. Our friend Gloria, would also bring Steve candy. Like shopping for treats for my dad – which has become incredibly difficult since it can be anything but. Yet for Steve, that was one of the only things, besides his lovely daughters – that seemed to perk him up. If I brought bakery items for the nursing staff, I would be sure to stash something for Steve. I remember how much he enjoyed a chocolate muffin and cupcakes, etc.

Steve Zich was just 66. His wife passed way 10 years ago, as he claimed “from smoking.” He leaves two daughters, Jessy and Carrie – adventurous, fun and loving. They seemed to comfort my dad the other day, as he comforted them during last Friday  morning’s realization. It is not known what occurred: did his heart just stop? We won’t know. What I do know is that my heart is broken. As short of a time that we’ve had to get to know Steve, he was only a couple of feet apart from my dad since the end of May last year. They were roommates until recently, when my dad had to be put in isolation because of ongoing infection. I do know that Steve was very concerned about him during that time and since.

When my dad’s phone(s) would be lost or broken, I would get a call from Steve’s phone, realizing he would lend it to my dad. They checked on each other quite a bit. The so-called ‘dying’ room, right across the hall from Steve’s had another resident there for several weeks. A wonderful elderly man named Russell. He died later that same day. As Steve’s daughter said to me, her dad didn’t even have a chance to get to that dying room, so that people could say their goodbyes.

I can only hope that Steve has some comfort in this next life. Apart from the pain he suffered through daily, and while his mind was still 66 (or younger) his body was not. A very gracious man who had a great deal of pride in his daughters, learned all he needed to know from watching television (as he would tell me), had an interest in Bob’s band, in my brother’s fishing, in all of us. He was our extended family before we even realized it. A better roommate for my dad as he entered the last place he would ever live, my dad could not have had. We loved Steve and will miss him and dreaded this day.