When Jean Lahm sat down to write her father’s obituary, the words that poured onto the page reflected the wit and honest humor she says she inherited from him.
“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 wrote.
Lahm then dived into just about every detail that made her father so distinctly lovable — details others might consider minute or maybe even out of place for an obituary.
These official remembrances tend to be serious, elegant encapsulations of a person’s life. The one Lahm wrote about her father told his story and made people laugh a little, too.
“He met the love of his life, Kathy, by telling her he was a lineman — he didn’t specify early on that he was a lineman for the phone company, not the NFL,” Lahm wrote. “Still, Kathy and Terry wed in the fall of 1969, perfectly between the Summer of Love and the Winter of Regret.”
And then: “He was a renowned distributor of popsicles and ice cream sandwiches to his grandchildren. He also turned on programs such as ‘Phineas and Ferb’ for his grand-youngins, usually when they were actually there.”
And: “He despised ‘uppity foods’ like hummus, which his family lovingly called ‘bean dip’ for his benefit.”
And: “Terry died knowing that The Blues Brothers was the best movie ever, (young) Clint Eastwood was the baddest-ass man on the planet, and hot sauce can be added to absolutely any food.”
The obituary spread in a way no one quite expected, not least Lahm, who told The Washington Post that “it’s really crazy how much attention it has gotten.”
The remembrance received hundreds of comments on Legacy.com from strangers who’d never known Terry Ward. It resonated with them not just because it was funny, these strangers wrote, but also because it felt relatable — and sincere.
“I never met Terry but I know that he provided that ‘fun element’ in common everyday life,” wrote Bridgie Graham-Smith of Wisconsin. “Jokes and laughs galore to ensure wonderful childhood memories.”
“We lost our father some time ago … and he and Terry must have been separated at birth,” wrote Werner and Kathleen Ott of British Columbia. “They would have gotten along well, we feel.”
The response surprised and comforted Lahm and her family during their grieving.
“He was just an average guy,” said Lahm, 43. “There are a million people just like him. It’s really crazy how much attention it has gotten. 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.”
Ward, who died of a stroke, is described in the obituary as a Thornridge High School graduate from South Holland, Ill., where “only three of his teachers took an early retirement after having him as a student.”
He was a Vietnam War veteran who retired from AT&T after “39 years of begrudging service, where 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 touch this button’ covers).”
In addition to Lahm and her siblings, survivors include Ward’s “overly-patient and accepting wife Kathy, who was the love of his life (a fact she gladly accepted sympathy for during their 48 years of marriage),” the obituary says, adding that Ward was preceded in death by “a 1972 Rambler and a hip.”
He was also preceded by another daughter, Laura Pistello, who died three years before her father.
Lahm, who works as the community relations director at a funeral home, remembers writing her sister’s obituary and inserting a little bit of humor — something her dad loved, she said.
So when it came time to write her father’s obituary, Lahm said, she told herself: “Okay, we’re going mostly funny.”
“I definitely can just see him laughing [in heaven],” she said. “When he smiled, he smiled with his whole face. His face lit up, and there was this loud, thunderous laugh he had.”
She added: “I truly picture him and my sister up there, eating popcorn, watching everything unfold — laughing hysterically.”
The obituary ends by noting: “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.”
Many new admirers, it appears, will be doing just that.
As Gina St. George of Florida wrote in the digital guest book: “I will raise a glass of cold beer to Terry. I regret that we didn’t know each other to have a beer together.”