A Father’s Journey Through Losing His Wife to Cancer

Four years ago, Bruce Ham lost his wife, Lisa, and his three young girls lost a mother, but with love, music and silly moments, their family is still strong. Ham shares their story in his book, Laughter, Tears and Braids: A Father’s Journey Through Losing His Wife to Cancer, and opens his home to us. 


Your family, in three words? My youngest daughter gave me one word, "weird." I prefer creative, humorous and close. Parenting Style Although I've been told, "Be a parent, not a friend," I am their friend, big-time. But I also have pretty high expectations. They don't get away with much. I was once told by my oldest daughter that I was the strictest dad in America. I believe that was slightly exaggerated and specifically tied to a desire to have an extended curfew. Breaking Bread It is critical that we eat together as many nights a week as possible. That's our time to unwind, share and laugh. Some of our best stories about my wife come out at the dinner table.  I try, but I am not a cook. My last-minute go-to food is a store-bought smoothie. Sweet Spot We have an island in the middle of our kitchen, which is smack-dab in the center of our house. That table is the hub: It's where we eat, where homework is completed, where friends gather, where I write. When Lisa was alive, she always wanted to eat dinner at the island.  I insisted on the table in the great room. When she died, it hurt too much to sit at the table with her seat empty. So almost all our meals have been at the island over the past four years. The Void My girls are very forgiving of my inadequacies when it comes to filling their mother's shoes. But I have to believe the void that has been left is our biggest challenge. It comes out at times through tears. It comes out at times through frustration—like when they are the last kids picked up at the after-school program because I'm working late or when I totally forget they have a field trip. Lisa would have never forgotten something like that.


Holding On I am amazed at the resiliency of my girls. I'm amazed at their flexibility. It would have been so easy for them to shut down or to find a path that wouldn't have been healthy. Instead, I have three daughters who are strong. One is the student body president. One spends time really trying to love and help others; her heart is as big as the ocean. The other is a comedian and actress. What an incredible combination. Taking a Moment I escape through exercise. I jog or go to my room and do push-ups and pull-ups. That's how I clear my head. Weekend Warriors The first three years after Lisa died, I did everything I possibly could to avoid a "normal" weekend. It was just too hard to be in the house that long. It's easier now. It seems like I'm constantly driving—getting the kids to where they need to be. And about once a quarter, we have a massive sleepover with 15 or more girls at the house. That's always an interesting evening. We're also very involved in our church on Sundays. Musical Interludes Lisa had a beautiful voice and so do all my girls. My wife listened to one kind of music at a time. Winter was country, summer was pop, and you didn't even think about turning on anything but the Christmas radio station after Thanksgiving. But country music most reminds us of her. She loved the Dixie Chicks—"There's Your Trouble" most reminds us of Lisa. Remains of the Day I still tuck each of my kids into bed at night. We laugh, sing, sometimes we cry. With my oldest, we tend to just talk. Sometimes we'll chat for an hour or more. That is what I most look forward to every single day. Lisa’s Girls My oldest daughter, Bailey, has Lisa’s leadership skills. She sees a challenge and tackles it. She's not scared of anything. My middle daughter looks just like Lisa. She has so many of her mother's expressions and mannerisms; she is a ninth-grade version of her mother. My youngest has my wife’s carefree attitude about life.  There isn't much that gets that kid down. She's happy, just like her mom.


Missing Pieces It's the little things. I miss dancing with her. She had a beautiful voice. She used to sing along with the radio in the car and I would listen to her. If she knew I was listening, she'd stop. But sometimes I'd act like I wasn't paying her any attention, and all the while I'd be in wonder at what was coming out of her mouth. I miss that. I miss all her clothes in my closet and her Coco by Chanel. And her flannel pajamas that I used to complain about. A Mother’s Pride I think she'd be proud—of her girls and of me. Proud that we've put the pieces of our life back together after it all was torn apartRight before she died, she told me that she had the easy part. That if she died, she would be in peace. She told me that I had the hard part: trying to move on with our three daughters. I didn't believe her at the time, but now I know what she was talking about. It's been beautiful to build this sort of relationship with my children, and it's been very, very hard to move forward. Lessons I'm a better man, a better father, than I ever imagined I could be. When you lose someone you love that much, it puts life into perspective. I treasure my time here on earth. I appreciate the small things, like holding hands or eating dinner with my kids. I work smarter; there just aren't enough hours in the day. I have much more empathy for others. And I've discovered that whatever life throws at me, I can handle—which surprises the heck out of me.