Could there be anything more anguishing to a parent than the death – and a death by suicide at that – of a child? From my long experience as a psychiatrist, I don’t know what that could be.
How do you, if ever, get over that loss in a productive way? Besides the incalculable loss itself, suicide often elicits questions about what could have been done to prevent it. The answer is often nothing. Major depression is sometimes a terminal illness.
Rep. Jamie Raskin played a key role in the impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump. Raskin and family have encountered traumatic loss. Their 25-year-old son, Tommy, died by suicide on the last day of 2020, that difficult and deadly year. No confidentiality is broken here because he was open about his son’s suicide in an attempt to reduce the harmful stigma around depression.
Irrespective of our political beliefs and the content of his words as lead impeachment manager, only a week after his son’s death, Raskin heroically returned to his Congressional work. That was on Jan. 6, also the day after the Jewish funeral, and the day of the afternoon breach of the hallowed halls of our Capitol. He was met with cheers and support from both Republicans and Democrats. Even so, not long after, he was separated from his daughter in the melee, triggering fears of another death.
Over that first week, the support by colleagues, family and friends that he received, along with searching for some meaning in the tragedy, can contribute to resilience and post-traumatic growth. He has courageously continued to convey that spirit. Of course, anyone in his situation must watch for delayed posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Our Jewish history provides some guidance for this situation. Rep. Raskin himself quoted from Exodus in his closing remarks:
“Thou shall not follow a multitude to do evil.” (Exodus 23:2)
Coming away with some meaning has now become known as the last psychological grieving stage. We are a people with a history of encountering great and sudden losses, including the deaths by suicide at the end of the siege of Masada and the genocide of the Holocaust. Yet, each time, we not only recovered as a people, but advanced in our contributions to the world and our growth as a people. We now live with a unique achievement – a strong diaspora and a strong homeland in Israel.
As we empathize with Raskin’s immense loss, let’s not only celebrate his resilience and love of our country, but consider honoring in any sort of tikkun olam way that we can, what was in his son’s farewell note request:
“Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”