Susan Kay Sakash, nee Kaminsky, passed peacefully, at Elmhurst Hospital, with her loving and devoted husband of 37 years, Bill, at her side.
Her death was entirely unexpected, due to complications caused by a mass in her large intestine that took her life only hours after we’d learned of its existence. We are all heartbroken, numb, and in shock.
She had two sons, Pete and Tom, and one daughter, Davy; their spouses, Brittany, Ashley, and Ben, respectively. But she was “mom” to countless many other people in her life: Her students at St. Joseph High School. Her children’s friends. And the many other people she adopted, sponsored, be-friended, and mentored in her community, throughout her career, and all over the world.
She had two grandchildren, Sam and Camden Sakash, or Sam and Cam, with whom she loved playing and feeding at mealtime, encouraging them to be as messy as they could be. In losing Susan, her grandchildren, especially, have lost someone important, someone they would have developed enormously loving and close relationships with as they grew older. She also had close, positive relationships with her children’s spouses (an Italian cab driver on a recent vacation had remarked how this would be very unlikely in his country) and was a sage, calming, humorous, and thoughtful presence during new momhood for both Brittany and Ashley.
Susan lived her life in service to others. She received her undergraduate’s degree in English from Northern University, and her master’s degrees in Social Work, Education and Special Education from National Louis University and Northeastern Illinois University. She spent decades of her life serving as a clinical social worker, a high-school counselor, a grade-school and high-school teacher, and special-education administrator.
She loved talking with and listening to people. She served for more than ten years as a Hospice social worker, and more recently worked with World Relief mentoring refugee families and teaching them English. She sponsored and mentored Native American young women from reservations in New Mexico and Arizona, was a city planner for the City of Chicago, and a vice-president of the Elmhurst Walk-in Ministry and the American Association of University Women. In 1987, she co-founded the organization FEMALE for new moms who had stepped away from their professional careers, an organization that grew to over 8,000 members and more than 100 chapters nationwide.
Her work supporting and mentoring children and young adults in Cambodia played a significant part in her life, work that included her recent appointment to the board of Education First Cambodia, an organization that empowers highly talented female university students in Phnom Penh from among Cambodia’s poorest families. She is beloved by the many, many people that she touched there.
She was a lover of books and an avid watcher of sports, passions she passed along to her sons. She was stubborn and strong-willed. She was irreverent and also appreciated irreverence, particularly when in the company of her brothers Cliff and Jerry. At social events, even those she was sometimes reluctant to attend, her wit, humor, and sarcasm were legendary. She was somehow also always, always the most modest, caring, and inclusive person in the room.
For years she struggled with multiple sclerosis, but never let it stop her from pursuing her passions and living her life with humor and love.
She hated cooking. Her penmanship was typewriter perfect. Her t-shirts were three sizes too large. She kept notebooks that she filled every day, for years, with the names of the people with whom she made plans to stay in touch. Other notebooks were littered with dates and quotes and sports trivia and funny things she heard people say. Her eyesight was terrible. Stacks of emery boards were always within an arm’s reach. She believed that chocolate cake was a wholesome breakfast.
She was her husband’s rock when he lost both of his parents. She was the rock for many people during times of great difficulty. She loved dogs maybe as much as she loved swearing at dogs. She always wore socks with treads on them when babysitting Sam because she knew Brittany was worried about her falling. She had the worst sense of direction, possibly ever.
In addition to her immediate family, she leaves behind her parents, Phyllis and Lee; her brother Jerry, his wife Debbie, and their children Jon, Nick, and Lindsey; her sister-in-law Diana and nephews Josh and Rob; her step-siblings Dennis and Ricki; and countless other friends, family, and loved ones who now all have to figure out how to cope with this tragedy without the counsel of the person we all would have sought out in a time of such stinging and unfair loss.
She is, however, reunited with her late brother Cliff. And according to their brother Jerry:
“I am blessed to have the best brother and sister anyone could ask for. And they are both together now, making fun of me for something.
“And that’s OK.”
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in memory of Susan to Education First Cambodia, World Relief DuPage/Aurora, 191 S. Gary Ave. Ste. 130, Carol Stream, IL 60188 or your local food bank.