Sonja Earthman Novo CoL
I look back on my life and know that You were with me all the way. When the time came for my birth, daddy did not have money to pay the hospital bill. Sonja Henie came to town with the Ice Capades, and daddy, a violinist, played in the orchestra for her performance. Sonja got us out of the hospital, and I got a name.
Entering parochial school in the fourth grade, a young 19-year-old Dominican sister would tell stories of the saints to her elementary students. Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua and other friends of God became my heroes and inspired me; I, too, wished to be a friend of God.
Bob and I married in 1963 and were blessed with five beautiful children. My vocation was to be a stay-at-home mom and raise our children. His position as a funeral director gave me the opportunity to attend a five-day, life-changing workshop with Elisabeth Kubler Ross. Her shared experience with dying patients was a memorable one.
Our marriage of 25 years ended in divorce. After the divorce, I began deep inner work. It was work of not simply looking at the limbs of a tree but having the courage to go to the roots. I owe much to Dale Goldstein, the founder of the Heartwork Institute. I also have done work with Judy Smith of the Hellinger Family Systems. We know that we inherit our physical DNA, but are not aware of also inheriting our emotional DNA. Both mentors have contributed immensely to my own personal discovery and growth.
I took clinical pastoral education at Hermann Hospital in Houston. In 1988 I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, with a recurrence in 1991. Later I was offered a job as chaplain at the hospice of the Texas Medical Center. My own experience of cancer was my greatest gift to dying patients.
During that time, I saved money and went to Plum Village in Bordeaux, France, to make a five-day retreat with Thich Nhat Hahn. He led several hundred people from around the world on walking meditations and gathered us for talks and practice on mindful living.
Ten years after our divorce, I married Charles Novo, an English teacher at St. Agnes Academy for 35 years. He was my daughter, Amy’s, favorite teacher. We have been married 19 years.
Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan iconographer, gathered a small group for an interfaith trip to Turkey. We experienced love and generosity from Muslims who did not appear as terrorists at all. We sat around the dinner table each evening and everyone shared his or her faith. Neither conversion nor debate took place; we simply listened and learned about another path. Believing such dialogue as one way to peace, I helped organize an interfaith group at our parish of All Saints.
My beloved daughter, Amy, committed suicide Oct. 16, 2015. She had suffered from depression for years. There are times in life when we die before we die. Her death and my divorce were death for me. In time, like the silkworm wrapped in his cocoon, the butterfly emerges. While I will never be the same after her death, I now welcome a new experience of working with you for peace and justice.
My hobbies include music, games and reading. I look back on my life and know that He has been with me all the way.
Thank you, Sonja, for sharing. I have learned so much from your words.
Thank you for your comments, Ms. Gahr.
What a beautiful life story. I worked with your mom at Stoddard’s. I was the bookkeeper. I’m so sorry about Amy. I so remember all your kids running in to see their grandma or calling her on the phone! You’re as beautiful in this picture as I remember you.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful comment, Ms. Case. We will be sure to alert Sonja to it.