The most challenging thing Solomon Thomas has had to endure in his life was not preparing for the NFL Combine or surviving his rookie year in the NFL. It was losing his sister on January 23, 2018.
Thomas’ relationship with his sister Ella started out just like any other sibling relationship: with lots of head-butting and rivalry. Then when Thomas was in seventh grade and his sister in high school, a tragic event made them vow to be close. Ella's best friend’s brother passed away. Thomas shared how Ella made her own brother make a promise to her:
“Solly we never know when our last day is and I want us to make sure we take advantage of every day and be best friends and love each other as hard as we can for the rest of our lives”
Unfortunately, that time was cut too short. Ella suffered from depression and took her own life at the much too young age of 24. While Thomas says he was aware of her illness he will always be wondering if he could have done anything differently to alter the course of events.
[I’m] analyzing, going through it. What you saw, what you didn’t see. How could I have handled this differently? I see what happened, but at the end of the day a lot happened and just it’s crazy.
We tried to get her help but there were some things that just pushed her over the edge. I understand to a point, but I won’t understand because it hurts.
Part of what has helped Thomas and his family get through this difficult time is the love and support he has gotten from the 49ers; from his teammates to the front office.
Jed [York], John [Lynch], Robbie [Gould], Elvis [Dumervil] and the twins [Jed’s twin sisters] all came to the funeral. To see them there was insane. I felt so much love.
Being near his alma mater has also helped. Two of Thomas’ closest friends are still enrolled at Stanford which provides an additional support system near by.
This weekend will be Thomas’ first trip back to his home in Texas since Ella’s funeral and he’s making it a special one. He will be participating in an overnight walk to raise awareness for depression and suicide awareness. His parents and friends will be joining him as well as a few members of 49ers player engagement.
The plan wasn’t always to be public about the tragedy but Thomas’ mother thought about the good that could come of it was well as how it could help the family’s healing process. She started by deciding to tell people in their church what had happened, if they asked. That’s when it hit home for Thomas, about the stigma that surrounds depression and suicide, because it is such a serious topic. He made it one of his goals to bring awareness to the issue, not shy away from it, sometimes by just doing the littlest things.
Make every conversation meaningful when you ask someone how they are. Give the a little smile or something because that could change someone’s whole life. You don’t know what they're going through that day and that one conversation could give them some light or something that could be like, you know it’s going to be ok, or something like that.
It’s easy to fake a smile and tell someone you’re fine but it’s really hard to tell someone how you actually feel, and all of those feelings inside you
One of the articles that hit home for Thomas was Kevin Love’s letter in the Player’s Tribune “Everyone is Going Through Something.” It made him realize that everyone see things differently. Something someone thinks is positive could be taken negatively by someone else. It also opened his eyes about sharing with men, especially pro athletes, that it’s ok to be upset, or sad because no one and nothing is ever perfect. He wants to help change the culture.
It’s something we all struggle with. It’s ok to be vulnerable
Moving forward from this tragedy will always be difficult for the Thomas family but rejoining the team for off season activities has been a welcome distraction. Thomas says it has also been good to just be around his teammates, the brotherhood.
I feel really lucky to be a part of this organization. I feel the love
Thus far Thomas reports that $27,000 has been raised by his campaign. The link to donate and support is here.
Most of all Thomas misses his best friend.
She lit up the room whether it was being loud or just talking to people. She was so good with people. She could make any crying baby smile. She loved everyone as hard as she could whether they deserved it or not.