We all have stories. Many of us hear our family stories from our elders particularly when we are able to visit our grandparents, uncles, aunts and parents. I learned the importance of storytelling from my mother, who wrote her family’s stories when she was a child in the drylands of West Texas.
As children, my cousins and I would sit on the floor listening to our parents, aunts, grandparents and cousins tell stories during the holidays and sometimes on birthdays. There was no television at the time. Truly, I don’t recall having watched television because there was nothing I adored more than listening to my elders’ stories.
Storytelling was all around me and in every fiber of my being, and it would later come to be one of the most important and enriching parts of my life.
In my first book, a memoir titled Where Water Meets the Sand, I tell the story of losing my husband Larry in Laos during the Vietnam war. I loved Larry with all my heart and because I loved him, I supported him following his dream to be a pilot in the United States Air Force.
Having lost my daddy at the age of nine years old, and fearful that Larry would not come back from the war, old feelings of loss and new feelings of fear overpowered me. Once Larry left for pilot training school, I fell apart and started seeing a psychiatrist. He was kind but direct and honest. He suggested I seriously consider admitting myself to the famous Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.
I wrote Larry and told him the doctor’s recommendation. Larry immediately sent me a letter assuring me that he supported the doctor’s recommendation. Our baby stayed with close friends in Lubbock, Texas where we lived. My diagnosis was Clinical Depression.
Larry was killed in Laos while I was at Menninger. His two-seater Cessna plane had been flying low and slow above the ground doing search missions. It was just Larry in the front seat as the pilot and his navigator in the back. Their plane crashed and Larry’s remains were not recovered. To say I was utterly devastated would be an understatement. My worst fear had become reality and my daughter, who was only two years old, was now left without a daddy.
I was so fortunate to be there during that time when I so desperately needed to be cared for and helped back on my feet. For that reason, I often speak on behalf of the need for excellent treatment for those who suffer as well as their loved ones. Stories about my stay at Menninger and speaking on behalf of those who suffer from mental health issues are major cornerstones in Where the Water Meets the Sand.
Where the Water Meets the Sand ended up being more than a therapeutic exercise in cathartic storytelling for me – it also earned Gold in the Independent Book Publisher Association’s (IBPA) Benjamin Franklin Award in the Memoir category. I was so fortunate for my first book to be recognized.
People would ask me, “How did you write your memoir?”
I always said, “I wrote my stories. We all have stories and when we share our stories, we learn we are more alike than different, that we have more in common than we knew.”
Storytelling brings us together. I realized that encouraging people to write their own stories, for their families and those who haven’t been born, would make a difference. This inspired me to write my second book, Your Turn: Ways to Celebrate Life Through Storytelling. I was thrilled when She Writes Press chose to publish it and speechless when Your Turn also won the Gold IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award in the Self-Help category.
Storytelling brings us closer together and makes us realize we are more alike than different. In Your Turn, at the end of every story I write, I offer prompts that are simple but helpful to writers as they begin to write their own stories.
In these difficult days when Covid-19 is rampant and has changed everyone’s lives, it is a great time to write your stories. Sharing your stories will mean so much to those who love you and even those you may never meet. Write your stories and make a difference.
© Tyra Manning 2020