On the eve of the new year, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) lost his son, Thomas (Tommy) Bloom Raskin, to depression. He was 25 years old. In the days that followed, as he was still wearing a torn black ribbon pinned to his lapel, as many mourning Jews do, life remained unrelenting for the Jewish congressman.
Last Tuesday, Raskin and his family said goodbye to Tommy with a simple Jewish burial. On Wednesday, he went back to work — specifically, to vote to certify the election. He brought his daughter, Tabitha, and his son-in-law, Hank (who is married to his eldest daughter, Hannah), to the Capitol with him, hoping to provide a distraction from grief, as well as an opportunity to observe, first hand, a historic election.
Instead, the family found itself in the midst of a riot. Mere moments before the violence in the Capitol, Raskin got a standing ovation from his colleagues, as he thanked them for their support during his family’s time of mourning. Soon enough, the family found itself rushing for safety, Raskin from the House floor, and Tabitha and Hank from the second-floor gallery.
WATCH: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), whose son passed away last week, receives a standing ovation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. pic.twitter.com/J9yjilD3Ql
— Cheddar🧀 (@cheddar) January 6, 2021
“They were locked inside and barricaded the door,” Raskin recalled in an interview with the Atlantic, “and Tabitha and Hank were hiding under the desk as this mob pounded on the doors.” He felt regret for bringing them there, only to experience more trauma.
Despite that harrowing experience, Raskin — a law scholar, lawyer, and the author of two books on Supreme Court cases — immediately started to spearhead the to impeach President Trump, again, alongside a group of colleagues. He started drafting articles of impeachment against the president, articles that charge him with “incitement of insurrection” for his involvement in spurring on last Wednesday’s deadly violence. Yesterday, Jan. 12, Raskin was appointed one of the impeachment managers.
I am in awe of Jamie Raskin’s grace at this moment.
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) January 13, 2021
Yet through it all, Raskin has given moving interviews about Tommy, whom he and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former deputy secretary of the Treasury, paid a heartbreaking tribute to in an important, stigma-breaking eulogy.
In every interview, Raskin has shared information to break the misconceptions and the taboo around discussions of suicide and depression. Notably, he laid bare the struggles of parents and loved ones who are left behind after a death by suicide: “You get drawn into a thousand questions about, ‘Well, maybe we should have done this, maybe we should have said that,'” he told the New York Times. “And it’s just a painful process, ultimately futile.”
“It’s just cognitive quicksand,” he told the Atlantic. “The questions never end. And people tell us it’s normal, it’s natural — but ultimately it’s unresolvable and inscrutable.”
“My wife captured it perfectly: She said that there are so much pain and so much love, and it’s all mixed together,” he added. “But every day we’re able to disentangle them more so that we can experience the love more purely and the pain more purely, and it doesn’t hurt to love him.”
At the same time, Raskin continued to laud his son for the person he was — that what made him extraordinary was not just his brilliance but his kind compassionate heart.
Raskin talked about how deeply Tommy felt things, and how important the emotions and experiences of everyone and everything around him was. “He was allergic to dogs and cats,” Raskin told NPR when he was asked about Tommy’s relationship with the family’s two dogs. “He would take Benadryl and he would pet them very gently on the top of their heads [and tell them], ‘You’re such a fine sentient being.” … He took very seriously — feelings.”
“He didn’t like gossip,” Raskin added. “He would say, ‘Excuse me, it’s hard to be a human.'”
Tommy, a second-year student at Harvard Law School at the time of his passing, was a passionate activist for animal and human rights. He left a full road map in his simple parting note: “Please forgive me. My illness won today. Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”
When asked about why he was so open about Tommy’s experience with depression, and why he shared his suicide note, Raskin said: “Why would we suppress that? I want to live by that note. That is my road map for the rest of my life.”
He said, through his son, he found the fortitude to move on and keep working through the grief and strife. Last Wednesday, as he went back to the house floor, “I really felt that my son was with me — and you know, that may sound too mystical and spiritual or religious for some of my rationalist friends, but I felt very much the spirit of my son with me.”
Raskin also expressed that Americans need to work together to find a cure for depression. “But in the meantime,” he told the Atlantic, “we obviously have to bring it out of the shadows.”
Sharing these experiences is so important for anyone grappling with depression, a disease that can also come with a fair amount of shame. It’s also essential for their families and loved ones, who can have better access to tools to help them, without judgment. And hearing of Raskin’s experiences has certainly helped those grieving for loved ones lost to suicide feel less alone.
We are so grateful to Congressman Raskin for his candor, his fortitude, and his grace through such a terrible time for our country and for his family. Our hearts go out to their family.
Header image by Congress.gov via Getty Images