Rep. reflects on her son’s suicide, January 6 | News, Sports, Jobs


U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, spoke Monday at the Chautauqua facility. Photo by Cameron Hurst

CHAUTAUQUA — On December 31, 2020, U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin lost his son to mental illness. Tommy committed suicide. He was buried on January 5, 2021. The next day, the US Capitol was stormed by protesters in what many are calling a coup attempt against American democracy.

It was these two events that inspired Raskin to write “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy,” promoted during his visit to Chautauqua Institution.

“The book is my effort to wrestle with the enormity of all these events together. I say at the beginning that these are – I’m not sure I believe this anymore – but in some sense they are cosmically independent events, but they have been intertwined in my own life. he said to a packed house inside Norton Hall. “I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to untangle them to try to renew the coherence of the world that was destroyed for me during this time.”

Raskin spent the majority of his 30-minute lecture talking about his son’s beliefs. “My son, Tommy, a young man of extraordinary gifts, was born a moral philosopher, comedian, playwright, prankster, human rights advocate, anti-war activist, vegan, visionary, sophomore studying at Harvard Law School when we lost him, (and) a jazz musician,” he said.

Raskin said Tommy’s depression “the breeze” and left a note for his family the day he committed suicide. “He said please forgive me. My illness won today. Take care of each other, animals and the global world for me,” he said.

Now, over a year and a half later, Raskin has tried to offer hope to those who have gone through a similar experience.

“I want people who have lost loved ones, even those in their prime like Tommy, to know that you will come to a point where you can say their name without completely dissolving and falling apart,” he said. “Time will restore you to the coherence of your loved one’s life, mind and heart and you can begin to see their life in its entirety, not just the last days.”

After the official lecture, Raskin answered questions for another 30 minutes. Many of the questions asked were about the January 6 attack and the future of democracy.

After Jan. 6, 2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Raskin to lead the impeachment trial. This role gave him a new purpose. “She threw me a lifeline and that’s what brought me back” he said to a round of applause.

Raskin was asked what hope he finds in the political arena today. He shares a quote from his father: “When all seems hopeless, you are the hope” he said, with an audible reaction from the audience.

He went on to say that he finds hope in people who want to get us out of polarization and conspiracy theories. “I see them everywhere I go” he said.

Raskin also applauded the youngsters. “This is a generation beyond racism and anti-Semitism, beyond immigrant bashing and misogyny,” he said. “They’re a great generation and they give me a lot of hope, but it’s been a tough time for them with COVID-19 and division and polarization and with climate change.”

When it came time to wrap up, Chautauqua Institution President Michael Hill said he wouldn’t ask Raskin a question that’s come up about 15 times. “Would you run for president?” as the audience burst into applause.



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