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A Journey of Grief, Faith, and Love

Submitted photo
Solomon Thomas shares a pre-game hug with the Hood family at their first meeting.
By Athena Hood,
Guest Writer
   This story is about two families, a small letter by my nine-year-old brother, and a lot of faith and love.
  It was about a month after the passing of our father by suicide that our mother shared with my brothers, Nicky and Tony, and I an essay on ESPN written by professional defensive football player #94, Solomon Thomas, of the San Francisco 49’ers. In the essay, Solomon openly described the challenges he faced from losing his sister, Ella Thomas, to suicide. We decided that we would like to write letters to Solomon as his words had given us hope and helped us feel a little less lonely. Before the tragic event, we didn’t know what it was like to lose someone to suicide, and Solomon knew exactly what we were going through.
  My nine-year-old brother Tony was the first to complete his letter and our mother was determined to insure that it was delivered to Solomon. Through the team website, she was able to explain the situation and ask for an address to which our letters could be sent. After exchanging emails and phone calls, Tony’s small letter was sent to and received by his new hero, Solomon “Solly” Thomas, “Mr. Thomas, I know how you feel when your sister died. My dad died one month ago…I want you to know that you are not alone. So I will be there for you any time that you are sad. Want to be buddies?”
  Very quickly my little brother became pen pals with a professional football player, and Solly received the title of being Tony’s buddy with great honor. After exchanging emails, the 49’ers team wanted to fly my brothers, our mother, and I out to San Francisco for the game on December 16, 2018 against the Seattle Seahawks. On top of the anticipation of getting to meet a pro-athlete, my brothers were very excited to be flying for the first time.
  It was not until we arrived at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, that we learned of the stadium motto, “Home of the Faithful,” which mirrored our own journey of faith. In the team museum, all five Vince Lombardi trophies are on display and the years of 49’ers memorabilia mesmerized us.
  Our game passes included family access and sideline field passes. As we walked out onto the grass, we could see the team warming up and Tony began to smile in a way that he had not shown for months. Then a song began to play and we knew it was Dad’s way of saying “hi” and to let us know he was there with us. It was a song by the B-52’s, which was one of his favorite bands.
  The Team Chaplain, Pastor Earl, took Tony under his arm and led us around. Tony said to him, “I’m going to go buy some gloves in the shop after this.” Pastor Earl quickly explained to Tony, “Buy gloves? I think we can find you some gloves….” He then turned to one of the equipment managers and asked if there could be found a pair of gloves for this young man. The equipment manager returned and handed Tony a brand new pair of actual professional team gloves that the receivers wear. Tony then threw a ball around with the backup quarterback and got to try on the coach’s headset. We were introduced to a few alumni team players, each with some very pretty super bowl rings on their hands.
  After completing his warm-up routine, Solomon was able to join us on the sideline. In a group hug of tears, love, and silent prayers, Solomon’s arms were so big that they could wrap around all four of us. There was a relief that we all felt from being around someone who understood the devastating weight of our grief. We were always so thankful for how Solomon’s encouraging words helped us, that we did not know until that day how much Tony’s own words had meant to Solomon.
  The 49’ers beat the Seahawks in overtime 26-23. The Niners said they won that game against the Seahawks because we brought the good luck from Missouri.
Submitted photo
The two families meet together, from left: Chris Thomas (Solomon’s father), Solomon Thomas, Athena Hood, Nicky Hood, Tony Hood, Bethany Pope, Martha Thomas (Solomon’s mother).
  After the game, we joined Solomon’s parents in the family room and then we all went to dinner. It was almost surreal because we quickly realized that pro-athletes are real people too. So much so that, as it turns out, Solly is a fan of the same television show that Nicky and I are obsessed with! These stories helped create the forever bond that the Thomas family was part of our own family. Solomon now calls me “li’l sis” and looks at all three of us like his little siblings because we are family.
Submitted photo
From left: Nicky Hood, Athena Hood, Solomon Thomas and Tony Hood 
meet again after the 49’ers game before going to dinner.
  The lasting grief from losing a loved one to suicide is easier to carry when you can surround yourself with those who know what you’re going through. In the wake of our father’s passing, we felt so alone…so God sent us a friend, who just so happens to love sports as much as we do and who understands the devastation of losing a loved one to suicide.
  It was a once in a lifetime trip that created a lifelong friendship that was all made possible because a grieving young boy shared some love.


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