Walk through the main floor of Jill and Stan Mikita's home in the western suburbs and you will see very little evidence that the man who owns it was one of the greatest players the sport of hockey ever has known.
Other than a portrait of the Blackhawks legend and an autographed photo of Mikita and lifelong friend Bobby Hull on the family room wall, there are few mementos indicating that it is the home of someone whose statue stands outside the United Center.
"Stan always said he didn't need things on the wall or plaques on the shelves because he had his memories," Jill Mikita says.
Now those memories are gone.
Stan Mikita has been diagnosed with suspected dementia with Lewy bodies, a brain disorder that can strip those with it of memory and cause hallucinations, sleep disorders and often, though not in Mikita's case, Parkinson's disease. His decline has been steep and sudden.
While the Hawks battle the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, a man who has been associated with the team for 59 years, and still is employed as an ambassador, is unaware it is happening. Since January, Mikita has spent his days and nights in a Chicago-area facility, walking up to 5 miles a day and eating up a storm. At 75, his body is sound. His brain is not.
"His mind is completely gone," Jill, Stan's wife of 52 years, says while sitting on the sun porch as one of her grandsons fishes in the pond out back. "I don't like to use that term, but there's no other way to describe it."
So while other legendary Hawks players and ambassadors, including Denis Savard, Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito, have been on hand to witness the Hawks' third Stanley Cup Final series in six seasons, Mikita has not experienced the same joy.
"You know what? He doesn't know he's missing out, he has no idea," Jill Mikita says. "If he was terminally ill and his mind was intact, then I think I would be heartbroken. But right now, he has no idea."
Stan Mikita spent all of his 22 years in the NHL with the Hawks and is the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 1,467 points and is second to Hull in goals with 541. The native of Sokolce, Czechoslovakia, won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 1967 and 1968, the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1968 and the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play in 1967 and 1968, making him the only player in league history to win the Triple Crown of awards in the same season — and he did it twice. The center was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.
There were signs in recent years that something was amiss. Mikita would forget where he left his car keys or cellphone. He once got lost driving home from Medinah Country Club, a trek he had made many times. But it was in September of last year when Jill Mikita and daughter Jane said the forgetfulness increased.
"The hardest thing was in the beginning," Jill says. "You saw him slipping away. Every day you would see him and there would be less and less in his eyes. They were just going dead."
Stan attended and skated at the Hawks' annual Christmas party Dec. 17, and a week later he was with Jill at their winter home in Florida when she "noticed a pretty sharp decline."
Jane traveled to Florida and the three of them came back to Chicago. On Jan. 15 he had a CAT scan and later, after a dinner of cabbage rolls, Stan stood up, put his hat and coat on "and that's when it hit," Jill says. "It was just bang, that was the end, the absolute end. And he never has come back from it."
It would be easy to point the finger at Mikita's years in the NHL, when he played with both grace and grittiness, as the cause of the dementia. The league has been hit with lawsuits from former players and the estates of deceased players alleging it didn't inform them of the dangers of repeated concussions and the possibility they would cause CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
But Mikita's family members said they won't make that leap, considering that other factors could have been involved, including a brain aneurysm Mikita suffered in 1999 and radiation treatments in 2010 to treat tongue cancer.
"There is no proof of anything," Jill Mikita says. "We have no intentions to sue, none whatsoever. I don't think there's anybody to blame. It's just the way it is."
Then she pauses and says quietly, "If I could change places with him, I'd do it in a heartbeat."
A few years back, Stan Mikita let it be known that upon his death he wanted his brain donated for research, and the family will abide by that. Whatever the results, including whether it's discovered he had CTE, the family doesn't plan to change its mind about litigation.
"If he does have CTE, who cares? It's not going to change anything," Jane Mikita says. "He played a sport and a game that he loved and that provided us as a family with a wonderful upbringing. Hockey was good to Stan and Stan was good to hockey. There is no finger to be pointed. He knew what he was doing lacing up those skates every time he got on the ice."
Mikita was among the first players in the NHL to wear a helmet, first donning one after nearly having his right ear torn off by a shot off the stick of teammate Doug Mohns during a game against the Penguins in 1968.
The next game, Mikita took the ice with a protective cup stuffed with foam rubber taped to the ear and wearing a helmet.
"After that, we sat down and we were talking and he said, 'Why do we put a helmet on after we get an injury? Why don't we wear it before we get the injury?,'" Jill Mikita says. "And that's when he started working on designing his own helmet. And he wore a helmet from that time on."
It is those types of memories that Stan Mikita never again will have himself. He is unable to dress himself and often has to have help eating, but by all accounts is happy and physically healthy.
"Whatever world he is in, he's content," Jane Mikita says.
Stan is visited every day by his wife and family and frequently by friends, including Savard, Hull, Esposito and others. Former teammates and opponents call often. Among those are former Hawks defenseman and current Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, former teammate Ab McDonald and longtime Rangers and Penguins player Vic Hadfield.
The visits aren't easy because other than rare and fleeting moments of recognition, he is not close to the same exuberant Stan Mikita who used to light up a room just by walking into it.
"It was really hard to see him that way," Savard says. "Knowing Stan all these years and just to see him the way he is now is really heartbreaking. When I see him, I don't see him unhappy because I don't think he knows what's going on, and that way it kind of comforts me somewhat."
It is hardest on the family members as they see their husband, father and grandfather as a man now devoid of memories, experiencing hallucinations and sleepless nights. Basically, nothing like the man he used to be.
The Mikitas wanted their story told because "people should know it's OK to ask us about it," Jane says. "It's not like it's some big taboo subject. We're not the only ones going through this. And if we're able to give a description of what he's going through and there is someone else out there who needs help, that's how my dad was. He always wanted to help someone else."
At the same time, seeing Stan in his current state is the most difficult thing they could have imagined.
"We've been mourning him so when he actually goes, which could be six months or it could be 10 years, we're more ready," Jane says. "I'm not going to lie to you, I pray every day that he goes because this is no quality of life. There is no dignity. And I don't say that lightly. Knowing my dad, he never would have wanted this."
With sadness in her eyes, perhaps Jill describes it best.
"The Stan we knew is gone," she says. "Completely gone."