The viewing room at Coolidge Funeral Home was at full capacity. Steve Ward’s sudden death left its mark on many: his colleagues at Ward, Inc., the multi-million dollar business he had grown from pennies, his many friends and his wife of ten years along with their three young children.
The room quieted as Brian Grant, Vice President of Ward, Inc. and former college roommate of Steve’s, made his way to the podium to speak.
“On behalf of me and the entire Ward, Inc. family, we want to share some of our fondest memories of Steve with all of you. Steve Ward was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known. Even during our days at Northeastern he always had his nose to the grindstone. It’s a good thing I was able to drag him out of the dorm to a club one night or he would never had met his beautiful wife Lynn”.
Lynn Ward, wearing a demure black and white dress, her shiny red locks tied up in a bun, squeezed her eldest daughter’s hand. She didn’t blink and showed no emotion as Brian rambled on.
“I will always be grateful to Steve for getting me in the door at Ward, Inc. and helping me rise to where I am today. Steve was a wonderful colleague, friend, husband and father. As most of you may know, Steve helped put food marketing on the map in our region when he created Ward, Inc five years ago. We went from being at the bottom of the industry to the number one marketing company in our division. Ward, Inc. has been in that position for the past three years. As the newly appointed President of Ward, Inc., I plan to continue our growth and will keep things the way they are. That is what Steve would’ve wanted.”
With this statement Brian received a standing ovation, mainly from his fellow colleagues, which outnumbered Steve’s general friends and family.
Lynn glanced around herself in disbelief. Was this a funeral for her husband or a board meeting?
Brian nodded in her direction. “Please let me introduce Steve’s lovely wife, Lynn Ward.”
There was more applause as Lynn stood on shaky legs and made her way to the podium. Brian took a seat directly in front of her.
“I want to thank you all for coming out to support myself and, my three children, Sadie, Jack and Dylan. Have you ever noticed that when someone dies their eulogy usually immortalizes them? They are remembered for being a good person and for all the wonderful things they did while they were alive. I’m certain Steve Ward may have been a good person for many. I know his colleagues feel he did all kinds of wonderful things, especially starting Ward, Inc. I wish I could sugar-coat my life with Steve for you but I can’t. Not any longer.”
There was a sudden stirring among the Ward, Inc. employees. Lynn bore her eyes directly into Brian’s who now sat very pensive in his seat.
“When Steve met me I was the president and owner of a very successful clothing design company and he was a clothing sample salesman. The early years with Steve were great times. We had three kids in five years, Steve had started working with me and my business had hit the million dollar mark. Instead of Steve being content with his position at my company, he became jealous. He became obsessed with starting his own business. When he couldn’t get a loan from the bank, he begged me to finance him. Although I didn’t believe in his project, I did it because I loved him.”
Lynn reached for a tissue from the box next to her and dabbed her eyes. “Loaning him the money was the worst thing I could’ve done. That was the day I lost Steve Ward. From that point on his family was moved way down the totem pole. Business always came first and family was second, sometimes even third or fourth.”
Brian stood up and approached Lynn. He reached for her hand. “Steve loved you guys. He always talked about you at the office. Look at the nice car you have and the beautiful house you live in. If it weren’t for him…”
“If it weren’t for him, what, Brian?” Lynn asked tensely, trying not to cause a scene. Brian, looking rather uncomfortable, sat back down.
“The house was bought with my money, from my business. In fact, everything I own, everything the kids own, was bought with my money. Ward, Inc. may have grown significantly since it began five years ago, but believe it or not, it still has yet to see a profit. Fortunately I’m financially stable. Steve may have been a marketing genius, but he had very little common sense. He made horrible investments. He didn’t even have life insurance.”
This statement was followed by a low murmur among the people in the room,
Lynn looked around her and sighed.
“I wouldn’t expect any of you from Ward, Inc. to understand the kind of person Steve really was,” Lynn continued. She glanced at a few of Steve’s golfing buddies who were sitting in the back. “Nor would I expect any of his close friends. You all got to see the business Steve or the friend Steve. Steve gave you the best of his life. Meanwhile the father Steve was missing from Dylan’s soccer game. Sadie won her first dance competition but Steve was not there to see it because he was at an alleged business conference in San Francisco. But I knew it wasn’t a conference.”
Lynn turned to face Susan Myers, a long-time business assistant at Ward, Inc. She was pretty, with long chestnut hair and bright blue eyes. She was also twenty years
Lynn’s junior. It had been no secret to Lynn that Steve had a year-long affair with Susan two years before. Lynn witnessed Susan’s face turn beet red as she hurried from the room.
“Jack started kindergarten in September. I was there to see him off on the school bus but Steve wasn’t. He could’ve been. He even said he would. But then ‘something’ came up at work and he had to go in early.”
“I didn’t mind him cheating. I had resolved myself to his deceit the first time he did it. I gave him an ultimatum: he either stop or I cease backing him financially. At this time he was still getting Ward, Inc. off the ground. We had decided to stay together until the kids were older. And I didn’t care what he thought of me. I knew he didn’t like me being a success, especially a bigger success than he was. What I did mind was the fact that he couldn’t be there for his kids. Sadie is almost eight, Dylan is almost seven and Jack is almost six. You know how many of their birthdays Steve attended? One. Sadie’s first birthday eight years ago. You wouldn’t think someone would want to work on a big holiday like Christmas. Especially with his children so excited.” Lynn chuckled. “Not Steve. Every Christmas Steve would sneak off to the den to do some kind of work. And forget family vacations. The only ‘vacation’ we had was last year when we took the kids to Disney World for the first time. Or, I guess I should say, I took them to Disney. Steve spent his days pent up in the condo we were renting working away. It always seemed as if he were trying to avoid us.”
Lynn glanced at her children fidgeting in the first row. “I often asked him why he worked so much and he told me because if he didn’t he felt he would die. How ironic that it was his work that did him in.”
“If there was a final thing I could say to Steve, it would be this: thank you for giving me three beautiful children and thank you for teaching me to live a full life instead of work my life away.”
The room was eerily silent as Lynn left the podium, gathered her three children and walked out.