Preventing suicide: Joplin woman describes losing her brother

Suicide Crisis

JOPLIN, Mo. – September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention month. Sharing experiences, feelings and understanding, rather than ignoring the topic, is a more effective way to prevent individuals from taking their own life.

Joplin woman from Norwood, Missouri, Lily Spence lost her older brother Solomon Spence to suicide on September 10, 2018.

Lily and Solomon were born “out in the woods” in a “cabin out in the middle of nowhere.” Their mother was a midwife and delivered them both at home by herself. Lily describes their mother as “Superwoman.” When Lily was two and Solomon was four, she was killed by a drunk driver.

“We grew up with just my dad. My brother was a very sweet child. My dad kind of beat that out of him over the years,” said Spence.

Lily explains that this “turned him into a man.” She says that abuse from their father, who was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, didn’t give her siblings and herself good coping skills. “It broke” their father when Lily and Solomon’s mother died, she adds.

“You could see him [Solomon] just grow up from a young age and carry this burden on his shoulders of having to ‘help out dad,'” she said.

Lily says that her and Solomon “fought like cats and dogs” for the first decade of their lives, but then they “switched into alliance mode.”

“He would always look out for me, protect me, make things easier for me, no matter what was going on with him. He was always really special to me in that way,” said Spence. “I could count on him for anything.”

Solomon was 30-years-old when he took his life, about to turn 31.

“He had already lived a really, really long life acting as an adult. From the time he was 12, he was treated like an adult… He had been under so much strain for so long, he seemed and acted older than he was,” said Spence.

Lily says that before Solomon took his life, he was told that he couldn’t attend his daughter’s first birthday party.

“He had been trying to see her for a long time and being denied access to her… That was the last thing that he talked about,” said Spence.

Lily believes that that was “the final straw,” but the outcome was an accumulation of years of built-up emotions.

“He felt all of those feelings for years and he’d come to me and I’d talk him down, so I felt like I failed in that way. But at the same time, it wasn’t just on me. He made his own choice, regardless of what I said all of the time…” she said.

Lily says that, before he killed himself, wellness checks were called in on Solomon because he was expressing suicidal thoughts. She says that the cops went to his house, saw him with a gun and “walked away.”

The only thing she wishes would’ve been different is that the police officers “had stayed there and been there for him.”

The effect that losing her brother has had on Spence is immense. She feels like her “soul got a crack in it.”

“It tore my world apart… I’m a different person altogether after he died. A me that doesn’t have him is somebody completely different than I would’ve been. I died that day too,” said Spence.

Lily says that her brother’s suicide has led her to have suicidal thoughts.

“His dark thoughts didn’t go away, they just transferred to the person that was closest to him. I think that if he truly knew what would happen to me, he wouldn’t have been able to go through with it because he cared too much about me,” she said. “But he didn’t care enough about himself.”

To others struggling with suicidal thoughts, Spence says you don’t need a “reason to exist.”

“They call them protective factors… Your cats, your dogs, your children, your spouse, your family… You don’t have to have a reason. You can just exist. And you have that right, nobody can take that away from you,” said Spence.

“You don’t have to explain it, you don’t have to deserve it… We’re all just here,” she continued.

For more information about preventing suicide or getting help yourself, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

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