Laughter, Tears and Braids by Bruce Ham (aka: Danny Tanner)
To my blog readers,
You guys have encouraged me through some very difficult times. It is hard to believe the girls and I have made it through three years without Lisa. Writing has helped me tremendously, and a stronger me means more stability and happiness for my kids.
I started a journal the week after Lisa was diagnosed. It helped guide me through the timeline of Lisa’s illness which is the meat of my book.
Laughter, Tears and Braids is not a compilation of my blog posts. In fact, there are very few stories that I’ve written about before. I think it’s pretty dang funny in places as I describe our marriage, our children, and our glorious life together. (I want to apologize in advance for my vasectomy story. It’s a bit too colorful. In my mind, there was a point to it – some of you may not get it. Women, when you get to that chapter, you may want to hand the book to your husband).
After sharing the book with a few of you, I’m told that it’s a pretty tough read. In places, it’s grueling because it’s a really sad story. The hero dies.
The book follows many of my journal entries as they move from concern for Lisa’s health to all out grief and anger at the world. They are raw; they are real.
I primarily wrote this book for my girls, for them to read later in life. Although, I do think that others might benefit from my experience. Perhaps it’s a glimpse into what people go through in troubling times – maybe a deeper understanding will help us all reach out in appropriate ways when we see others hurting. Maybe it’s a reminder to appreciate the life we have today. I never fully did and still struggle with that sometimes. It is certainly a story of hope. If I can make it through something this horrible, I’m guessing almost anyone can.
I’ve included the introduction from my book. It is a letter to my girls.
I hope you will read Laughter, Tears and Braids. It’s been a long time in the making.
(I used our real names in the book versus our Real Full House blog aliases. It just didn’t feel authentic as the Tanners.)
Dear Bailey, Lucy and Annie T., (DJ, Stephanie and Michelle),
I started writing the week after your mother got sick. Initially, it was in a journal given to me by a co-worker. At your uncles’ urging, it turned into a blog, something I’d never heard of at the time. And now, after years of work, I have completed this book.
I’m not sure if anyone will read it. I’m not the best writer in the world. But that’s not what this is about. I didn’t write it to sell a million copies. I wrote it for you, I wrote it for Mom, and I wrote it for me.
You see, what your mother and I shared was beautiful. We loved each other very, very much. Throughout our 16-year marriage, we developed a connection and partnership I’ve never experienced before. In many ways, we were one. She balanced me, and I brought out the best in her. Our strengths complemented each other. We filled each other’s voids. I think that’s why losing her was so difficult. Without her, I was lost. It was as if part of me had died too.
About halfway through putting this project together, I sat down and really thought about why I was writing. I wanted to make sure there was meaning in my work. I needed to know that this was more than just a reenactment of our life, a timeline of activities. What I discovered was that the most important goal of this book is to help you better know your mother. I don’t build her up to be perfect. She was not. She had incredible gifts and a few areas she could have improved upon – just like you and me.
You know me. You understand what I do well and what I don’t. You love me for the good, and you give me grace for the bad. It’s important that you know her too.
It is also important to me that you understand what your mother and I had together. We weren’t the perfect couple; we were the perfect couple for us. I hope this book helps you have a picture of our marriage. It was so very good. Maybe it will help you as you move forward in a serious relationship.
At times, I may have let you down during the year or two surrounding Mom’s illness and death. It is important to me that you understand what was going in my mind at that time. I couldn’t be all I should have been for you because I was simply broken – emotionally, physically and spiritually. I think I did okay, but at times I failed. You deserve to know why. You deserve to have a deeper understanding of the depth of my loss.
I’m not sure if others will read this book, but for those who might, I hope they too will take something away. For those who have experienced tragedy, I want them to see hope. I ached to the depths of my soul, and yet, even in my darkest days, there was happiness to be had – much of it I found in you.
I believe healing comes from within. It is all in how you play the cards you have been dealt. I’m no hero. I think that most people step up in the face of adversity, but maybe this book will help those who aren’t yet able.
Finally, I hope to bring understanding to those who have not yet had to deal with loss. Perhaps a glimpse into our life will give them more understanding, more empathy for those walking through this long, hard journey. Truth be told, it’s not just about death. There is sadness and strife all around, ours is but one example of how hard life can be.
I think this experience has made me appreciate what I have more than I ever did before. It has certainly changed my priorities. I wish I’d learned that sooner. Maybe others will read this and hug their kids a little tighter right now or take their wife out to dinner – tonight. That is my hope.
I don’t think there is a way in words to express my love for the three of you. The pride and joy I feel for you exceeds even my own understanding. Without you, I’m not sure what would have happened to me. You provided me motivation to move forward when it would have been so easy to quit.
Take my words and forge on with life, regardless of the barriers that get put in your way. Reach out to those around you, showing acceptance, love and support, just as others have done for us; and, as you have done for me.
I love you.
“This is a stunningly good book. Often witty, always poignant, Ham captures the emotional complexity of families facing a terminally illness and the struggle to find hope when all seems lost. Ham’s honesty about his flaws and stumbles along the way is refreshing and makes his journey more accessible and his triumphs resonate more deeply.”
Justin M. Yopp, PhD
Single Fathers Due to Cancer Program
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
“In this touching, insightful, and often disarmingly funny memoir, Ham bravely invites us into his family, his wife’s tragic encounter with cancer, and his crisis in faith. What emerges is a beautifully written love story that reveals on every page his devotion to his wife and daughters as well as his own remarkable growth through adversity. You will be moved, entertained, and inspired.”
Donald L. Rosenstein, M.D.
Director, Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
“Laughter Tears and Braids is a phenomenal story of a father’s love. Bursting with hope, compassion, and memories, readers will be touched by this story. Everyone who has lost a loved one to cancer has something to gain from his inspiring outlook after his wife’s battle with cancer.”
Peggy G. Carroll, Managing Partner
Patient Alliances, Oncology
“Laugher, Tears and Braid” is more than a widower’s story of love and loss; it is Bruce Ham’s Hero’s Journey from a man who looked to others for guidance, to a man who trusts his instincts and is braving a new normal without his loving wife by his side. Prepare to laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page. After reading this book, you’ll feel you have a new set of friends—the type of friends who’ll help you move in July, change your tire off the interstate’s shoulder and give you a surprise hug.”
Alice Osborn, author of After the Steaming Stops and Unfinished Projects