Laughter, Tears and Braids

B.Ham.FrontCover (2)

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.



Crackin’ Knuckles

Posted by Danny

When DJ was young, she went through quite a clingy stage.  She got that from her father.  My mother says I was excited about first grade, until I got home from the first day.  Mrs. Brayboy, my teacher, struck a classmate’s knuckles with a ruler because he was talking when he should have been listening.  Needless to say, after that I did not talk.  My pants could have been on fire and I wouldn’t have spoken in her class. 

I can still see the fury in that lady’s eyes.  She scared the hell out of me.

 The next day my mom shoved me out of the house with my older brother for the one block walk to Glendale Acres Elementary school.  One block from my house was a red fire hydrant.  I grabbed that thing with all of my six-year-old might.  “I’m not going!”, I wailed, my brother pulling on my waist to release my death grip.  What if she got mad at me while holding a stapler, I wondered.  This could be really bad.

 It took my brother, two neighborhood kids and my mom to get me back to her classroom that morning.  As I was towed onto the campus, my yelling immediately stopped.  I feared if she heard me my knuckles would pay the price. 

My protests continued from 3:30 pm until 8 am.  Bottom line, Mrs. Brayboy and I weren’t a good match.  My parents moved me to a private school for the remainder of the year. 

In kindergarten, DJ would hold onto Lisa’s leg each day when they arrived at school and to my knowledge, her teacher did not beat her with school supplies.  I couldn’t drop DJ off, it stirred up too many unpleasant memories for me.

 This insecurity lasted, to some extent, for a couple of years. But that kid had something about her that stood out. Something that let me know the clingys wouldn’t last.  And I was right.

 Not only is DJ in the chorus for A Christmas Carol, but she is also Martha in the Cratchit family.  She has a couple of lines and has to sing a song with the family in front of thousands of people!  Not to mention, she tried out for and was chosen to be one of the dancers in another key scene in the play.  That kid has talent (she gets that from her father).

 I sure am a proud, proud daddy!

Sunday Post 35: Long Lost Humor

My parents were at the Cape Fear Regional Theater in Fayetteville, my hometown, to see a musical.  They were with a group and ran into another good friend before the show began.  This friend is a very tall man who spends his life laughing.  He sees humor in almost every situation.  And when he doesn’t see it, it makes it.

As he walked down the sloped aisle toward his seat, he noticed that my mother was sitting right in front of him.  At least he thought it was my mother.  The woman had a similar hairdo to my mom (and yes, my mother goes to the beauty shop every week to get her do!) and was petite like Jean.  He quickly walked down the row of chairs and took his seat.  As soon as he was settled, he took his oversized leg and draped it across “my mother’s” shoulder. 

This woman was caught off guard.  She turned and looked at this man who had invaded her privacy.  Realizing it was not my mom, he said, “Oh, I thought you were someone else”, as if that made it OK for a grown man to throw his leg across a seventy-year-old woman’s shoulder in a public setting.

I work with a woman who has the best laugh on this planet.  You just feel good when she’s around.  I pick at her mercilessly.  She tells me I’m evil – she tells anyone who will listen that I’m evil.  But I love her to death!  She’s like a walking laugh track.

I have spent most of my life looking at the world through a humorous lens.  My kids and I can change the words to a song and entertain ourselves for the entire ride to school. 

Lisa had a great sense of humor too.  One day at Duke we decided to make a list of positive things that we saw during her illness.  We sat in the freezing cold waiting room ready to begin the brainstorming.  I wrote the heading at the top of the page on my notepad:  Good Stuff We See.  We sat for 30 minutes, unable to find an ounce of positive.  They called us back to the examining room, still nothing.

Finally Lisa said, “You know what, this room is warmer than the waiting room.  Throw that on the list to get the ball rolling.”

“Pathetic!” I replied.  I still have the pad and that’s the only entry.

My parent’s friend, with his leg tossed across a stranger, knows how to enjoy life.  My colleague at work who lifts the spirits of every single person who crosses her path with her generous smile and laughter, sees the fun in the little things.  And yes, my always optimistic wife could find the positive in a three degree shift of air temperature.  

There have been times over the past two years that I thought I would never laugh again.  In October of 2009, the month after Lisa was diagnosed, I told a friend, “We’ve lost the humor in our house.  And I don’t know if will come back.”  However, even in sadness it pokes its head out.  But only if you let it.

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