The day Jeanie Kustok died, the Orland Park woman's spirit followed her children.
At Thursday's funeral Mass in Our Lady of Knock Catholic Church in Calumet City, Zak Kustok told mourners how he ordered a meal from a Panera restaurant with his family on the day his mother died. He ordered a turkey sandwich but received a tuna salad, instead.
"Sarah said 'Every time mom and I went to Panera she ordered a tuna salad sandwich,'" Zak said. "If we didn't already know she was with us always, she wanted to make sure it was ingrained and sent that down."
Recalling his mother's warmth and strength, the former Northwestern football star thanked attendees for being at the service and for stopping by Wednesday's visitation in Lansing to mourn with him and his sister Sarah, a Comcast Sportsnet reporter and former DePaul University basketball player.
"It helped us get through the most difficult of times," Zak said. "She has touched so many lives. She truly cared whether it was her family, close friends, her DePaul basketball family, Northwestern football family. The whole Cracker Barrel wait staff came by for an hour and a half yesterday. They've waited on my mom and grandma countless times. That truly showed us just being around her for a few minutes or a few hours that she touched so many people's lives."
Indeed, as they prepared to lay their mother to rest, Zak and Sarah were the ones comforting the people who had come to know and love 58-year-old Anita "Jeanie" Kustok.
Before Mass, the Kustok children were consoling and hugging various family and friends, reassuring them they way she would have herself. During the service and after, the two did more of the same.
"Knowing her, she wouldn't want any people here to hang their heads and have a lot of sorrow," Zak said to those who attended the service. "Think about her and channel her strength. Don't walk out of here with a frown. Walk out with a smile."
Hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues from Central Elementary School in Riverside and acquaintances filled the church. Hymns were sung and Bible passages quoted. Both Zak and Sarah reflected on their mother while offering advice for those gathered.
"Our mom was a force," Sarah said through tears but with strength. "It was impossible not to be around her and not be your very best self. Father Ken [Simpson] talked about her filling a room with light. She set the room on fire. She radiated love."
Sarah said her mother focused on the people around her, and how she would give in great abundance. If anyone said they liked her banana bread, she would make tons of it.
"You have two choices," Sarah said. "You can be sad, feel bad, sit there and miss her. Or you can think of how absolutely lucky and blessed every single one of us are to have had her in our lives as long as we did. She was truly an angel. No more perfect of a life you can live than what she did. Think about that and maybe you can go give a smile, give a hug, go help somebody else."
Zak said his mother took pride in knowing many thought of her as a "second mother."
He closed by saying neither he nor Sarah wants anyone feeling sorry for them. Their father, Allan Kustok, 59, remains behind bars, charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 29 death of his wife of 34 years.
Father Ken Simpson, who met Zak while at Northwestern, offered a eulogy focusing on "the great light that shined through Jeanie." He also described the concern she had for those around her and the lengths she went to be a warm homemaker.
"Anyone around her was filled with her light," Simpson said. "Imagining that is a doorway to her wonderful qualities. The light she brought remains always."