For the past 13 years, Johnna Utzman has been writing down lessons she learned and experiences she had during a decade filled with death and grief.
This year, those stories were published in Utzman’s first book, “The Front Porch: Life Lessons Learned through Grief.” While writing the book, Utzman experienced the loss of her father and mother, and was diagnosed with cancer herself.
“It was just a way to get out my grief,” Utzman said. “There were times I couldn’t talk to anybody, and I couldn’t let it build up inside, so I said, ‘I can put it on paper. I can express my thoughts, release my frustrations and realize that even in those hard days, God was there the whole time.’”
Utzman, a resident of Luna, started writing the book in 2010 after her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Her mother later died in 2013.
“The porch is where my mama was raised in Mississippi,” said Utzman, speaking about the title of her book. “And before she passed away, she would go back there every night. When she was in between her last breath here and her first day in heaven, she would start talking and she would go back to her childhood. And she would see my grandparents. That was her happy place. That was her safe place.”
According to Utzman, a front porch was a place where one could rest, forget headaches and find peace.
“I decided you could make a front porch wherever you go,” Utzman said. “So this story became my front porch.”
Andrea Greer, an author from Monroe, helped Utzman edit the book and put it up for sale. Greer and Utzman have been friends for two years, and Greer said she would soon marry into the family.
“We met through a women’s retreat at my church, and now I’m engaged to her cousin,” Greer said. “So now we will be family.”
Greer has written seven children’s books and three Christian devotionals which were each published last year. The features that made Utzman’s book special, besides its “country slang,” were the stories that would help anyone who was grieving, according to Greer.
“She’s had a lot of loss in her family,” Greer said. “So these are stories of loss, but through the loss, the family coming together and stories of triumph. And her faith is so strong. That’s what she stands on through this, which is so beautiful.”
Utzman said everyone would experience grief at some point in their lives, though it would be different for each person.
“But in that process, we have things that we can relate to and connect to, even though our stories are different,” Utzman said. “So we can either let it stop us in our tracks or we can use it to help other people because we’re not the only ones going through it.”
“The Front Porch” is currently available on Amazon, though Utzman said the Rapides Parish Public Library planned to stock the book as well. She said she hopes to get the book into local bookstores.
“I’ve got a lot of stories to tell,” Utzman said. “I love history and I love to tell a story. I would like to think that God has given me that talent to put a picture into words.”
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.