After his son Tommy Raskin died by suicide, Rep. Jamie Raskin and his wife, Sarah Bloom, published a eulogy on Medium, detailing the life of their son, his struggles and successes, and sharing his poignant final note, in which he exhorted his family to take care of the “animals and the global poor.” They have since set up the Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals, to do so.
In a time in which so many people have died in the pandemic, something about this particular death struck a chord and moved people to action. In a humble Google Sheet, a list is growing of good deeds done in Tommy’s honor — 1120 people in 42 states and 12 countries, and growing. Kari Hillstrom McDonough, who started the project, has also received many submissions on a Facebook post.
Much of the list features donations to food banks, animal shelters and the newly-created memorial fund, as well as promises to foster animals or take up vegetarianism. Many also promised to reach out to friends they know are isolated or struggling.
Emily Morris, a professor of education at American University, inspired by a story about how Tommy had donated his teaching assistant’s salary, donated tuition to a colleague from Zanzibar, Tanzania, who was struggling to pay for their nephew’s first year of college.
Others took a more hands-on, local approach; a woman, identified only as Joyce, wrote at length about rescuing an injured squirrel who had fallen from a tree. She nursed it overnight in Tommy’s honor before an animal control agent told her it was healthy enough to be released. Sheila Young of Madison, Wisconsin, set out bird seed for a “lonely Canada goose whose flock has left it behind alone on the frozen lake this year.”
But many of the good deeds listed did not seem to be directly inspired by Tommy or his particular interests. Instead, the list seems to serve as a form of accountability or motivation to simply be a better person. People are forgiving debts, bringing newspapers to neighbors’ front porches, calling old friends and donating blood. One family lit a votive candle for the Raskins in their church.
Even though Tommy’s death is one among innumerably many this year, it has provoked a singular response. Some are devoted constituents of his father, who weathered the attack on the Capitol just one day after his son’s funeral and has since become one of the leaders of the move to impeach Trump. They praised him for his devotion to democracy even in the face of such loss.
Rep. Raskin said he has also been inspired by his son, whose commitment to justice has provided him strength to take action after the attack on the Capitol; Raskin spent the days following the riot drafting articles of impeachment, as well as a resolution asking Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. Tommy would have thought the mob was “the absolute worst form of crime against democracy,” the congressman told the Washington Post, adding that he “felt [Tommy] in my heart and in my chest” during the attack.
Yet many have no connection to the Raskins; they simply saw the statement about Tommy and were touched. They lost children of their own, or struggle with depression themselves. They’ve lost loved ones to suicide, or they simply admire Tommy’s devotion to social justice, and the generosity and kindness his parents so eloquently described.
“Paid water bill of a poor family through the charity website of the Municipality of Istanbul. I am touched by message left by Tommy. May he find peace now” wrote Ahmet Sezgin of Istanbul, Turkey.
It seems that the Raskins’ eloquence has been essential to the wide appeal of Tommy’s story. Their words evoked the feelings many could not find words for during this exhausting year of loss, and Tommy has become the symbol for other promising people, young and old, who have died.
It is exhausting to continue to find motivation during a pandemic; Tommy Raskin’s tireless commitment to kindness and generosity is serving as inspiration to many to pick themselves up and continue trying, in whatever small ways, to bring kindness into the world. His memory is serving as a reminder that even the smallest thing can have an outsize impact.
“Sang a song and recited a poem to a stranger, it turned out they had recently lost a friend to suicide,” wrote Cinderfella, from Los Angeles. “I was attracted to their smile, the smile I felt from their soul.”
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, help is available. Call the Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Mira Fox is a fellow at the Forward. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @miraefox.
The legacy of Jamie Raskin’s son continues to inspire online