We think of obituaries as somber pieces of writing – they’re informing the world of a person’s passing, after all. But Jean Lahm knew that her eccentric dad didn’t warrant a sad type of a send-off, so she decided to write something different.
What she came up with was a much more fitting reflection of her father, Terry Ward. And although he had lived his life out of the spotlight, he posthumously became a viral sensation as his daughter’s written eulogy sparked conversation nationwide.
Before her father’s death, Lahm had had a wealth of experience with the planning that’s required when a loved one passes away. She worked as a community relations director at Geisen Funeral Homes in her home state of Indiana.
And three years before losing her father, Lahm’s sister Laura Pistello had died. At that time, Lahm had been tasked with writing the obituary too, and she had taken a non-traditional, slightly humorous approach to it. Her father had loved the way it turned out.
So when Ward suffered from a stroke and passed away in 2018, Lahm knew exactly how to write the ode to her father’s life. She told The Washington Post that she had had only one thought as she had sat down to pen the obituary, “Okay, we’re going mostly funny.”
A comedic tribute would be perfect for her father, Lahm suspected. She told Today, “That’s how my dad was. He was all about making people laugh. He just had this quirky, witty sense of humor and we all got it from him. The household was built on who could get the best laugh.”
In just the first sentence of her father’s obituary, Lahm made it clear his written send-off wouldn’t be a traditional one. “Terry Wayne Ward, age 71, of DeMotte, IN, escaped this mortal realm on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, leaving behind 32 jars of Miracle Whip, 17 boxes of Hamburger Helper and multitudes of other random items that would prove helpful in the event of a zombie apocalypse.”
She then introduced readers to Kathy, Ward’s “overly patient and accepting wife … who was the love of his life, a fact she gladly accepted sympathy for during 48 years of marriage.” The pair wed in 1969 after Ward hooked Kathy “by telling her he was a lineman – he didn’t specify early on that he was a lineman for the phone company, not for the NFL.”
It was a long road that brought Ward to his career in the utility business, his daughter wrote. First, he had to graduate from high school “in South Holland, IL, where only three of his teachers took an early retirement after having had him as a student,” she recalled.
Later, Ward volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army, which saw him traveling overseas to fight in the Vietnam War. He then worked in a presumably calmer role at AT&T, providing nearly four decades of “begrudging service,” his daughter wrote.
The job did have its humorous perks, Lahm wrote. “He accumulated roughly 3,000 rolls of black electrical tape during the course of his career, which he used for everything from open wounds to ‘Don’t use this button’ covers,” she said.
But to Ward, the most important thing in his life was his family. He left behind his wife, a brother, a sister, two daughters, two sons-in-law and seven grandchildren. To his youngest family members, “he was a renowned distributor of popsicles and ice cream sandwiches,” Lahm wrote.
On the other hand, his daughter reported that “he despised ‘uppity foods’ like hummus, which his family lovingly called ‘bean dip’ for his benefit.” His other dislikes were aspirational, to say the least. “He couldn’t give a damn about most material things,” Lahm wrote.
In fact, unlike most people on the planet in 2018, “he never owned a personal cell phone, and he had zero working knowledge of the Kardashians.” Instead, he lived simply and “died knowing that The Blues Brothers was the best movie ever … and hot sauce can be added to absolutely any food,” Lahm wrote.
She ended her father’s obituary with a final request from Ward’s family. “Memorial donations in Terry’s name can be made to your favorite charity or your favorite watering hole, where you are instructed to tie a few on and tell a few stories of the great Terry Ward,” she wrote.
With that, the obituary ended – and the comments came flooding into the website where it was posted. For many people, Lahm’s words hit home because they were not just humorous but very genuine too. “It’s really crazy how much attention it has gotten,” Lahm told The Washington Post.
One commenter named Bridgie Graham-Smith wrote, “I never met Terry but I know that he provided that ‘fun element’ in common everyday life.” Werner and Kathleen Ott also left their thoughts on his obituary, saying, “We lost our father some time ago, and he and Terry must have been separated at birth. They would have gotten along well, we feel.”
Comments from friends and strangers alike continued to pour into the site. This overwhelming support from across the world helped Lahm and her loved ones through their loss.
She told The Washington Post that the support shocked her. “He was just an average guy. There are a million people just like him. I think to myself, well, he hasn’t done anything super extraordinary in his life – he hasn’t won a Nobel Prize or climbed the corporate ladder,” she said.
But Ward’s obituary proved he had loved his family and had had a great sense of humor, which seemed to resonate with everyone who read his story. And that fun-loving spirit is just who Lahm says is watching over her. “When he smiled, he smiled with his whole face,” she said. “His face lit up, and there was this loud thunderous laugh he had. I can just see him laughing [in heaven].”