Janelle Shantz Hertzler and her husband, John, were living in Thailand with their son, Micah, where they volunteered their time with an organization. On July 24, 2005, Janelle's life changed forever. Her husband, John, was killed when a drunk driver hit the motorcycle he was riding. After losing her husband, Janelle and Micah returned to the United States.
It was 2 year after John's death that Janelle began to photograph nature and to write poetry. She found that doing these things helped her confront the emotions of grief that were buried. She eventually put her work into a book called Seasons of Solace: A Story of Healing Through Photos and Poems to help others through their own grief journey.
I was contacted by the publishing company to review a copy of this book.
I have a natural love for reading and I usually go through books pretty quickly, but this time I wanted to take my time. I didn't feel this was a book to rush through. I really wanted to experience what this book had to offer. Janelle's photographs are absolutely stunning. I like how she doesn't tell you what she was thinking as she took them so that you could come to your own conclusion about what it represented, whether it be what you thought she was feeling or your own feelings.
The poems in the book really spoke to me and reflected many of my own feelings with grief. The poems aren't too long or written to be extravagant-just simple and heartfelt. Some poems stood out to me more than others. One example is the poem Sing Now where Janelle talks about her son. It reminded me of my daughter, Kyndra, and all that she would be missing without her sister but she doesn't yet realize it.
I would definitely recommend this for those who have suffered loss or for those who just want to understand.
Janelle gave me the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
I think that my readers would be interested to know about your life before John died and how it changed after, not just physically but emotionally.
John and I were committed to long-term work in Thailand. He worked with a micro economic development program, as well as with an AIDS patient program. I was involved in teaching English and doing leadership development. We had been married about four and a half years when he died. Our only son was 18 months old at the time. As a single mom, I couldn’t see myself staying in Thailand and so I came back to the States.
Because John and I were planning to live in Asia for many years, after he died, I was grieving both his death and the loss of my dream of living overseas. It was an exhausting journey to try to figure out how to work through grief, as well as figure out what I would do to make a life for myself and my son in the States.
In what ways did you cope after it first happened? How do you cope now?
One of the first things I did after John’s death was that I started taking part in regular spiritual retreats. In my area there is a school of spiritual formation that was started by a group of Mennonites (my faith tradition). They host once-per-month weekend retreats that focus on finding God in the midst of the difficulties of life. In these retreats I felt freedom to express my pain and struggle.
I also stumbled upon several creative outlets that were healing for me. Once I was sitting by a river watching my son and his cousin play. I had my camera to photograph them. While there, I was drawn to a beautiful red leaf that lay on the stones. I realized that this vibrant red leaf was ending its time of being a leaf—and it was doing so with such amazing beauty. Somehow that spoke deeply to me, so I took a photo. This began a journey of finding images in nature that spoke to my situation and pain. It became a very healing process.
I also started writing poetry about my grief experiences. This poetry is slice-of-life, narrative style poetry that is easy to understand. I had been journaling somewhat, but in a way I felt like I didn’t have the energy to write out my experiences in prose. Poetry helped me get my emotions out in few words and with powerful imagery.
What made you want to create Seasons of Solace? What do you hope this book will do?
I wasn’t setting out to write a book when I began Seasons of Solace. A friend of mine had been telling me I should write a book, but again I didn’t feel like I had the energy for that kind of writing. So one year for Christmas I decided to make a photo/poetry book for this friend and a few others from the poems and photos I had been creating. Those who saw it felt it made a powerful combination. Eventually I began doing poetry readings in public settings and people really connected with what they heard. People came up to me and said, “I never read poetry, but this has been so moving for me.”
So I offer the book as way for others to be real with God in their pain. I found the nature images to be very healing, and I offer those as a means to finding comfort. A friend of mine recently loaned his copy of my book to someone in grief. When he went to visit a few weeks later, he asked the woman if she was finished with the book. She asked if she could keep it a little while longer because she was paging through the book every day. So of course, he said she could keep the book. For this woman and for others, the combination of poems and photos offers a space for people to be real with their questions and struggles and find solace for their own journeys.
Thank you, Janelle, for answering and for creating this book for us all.