And so it was that the family and friends of Thomas “Tommy” Bloom Raskin, son of Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), came together Saturday morning to remember the young man, who died by suicide. The memorial service was tailored to prevent communicable disease: Eulogists stood by turns on a stage in a parking lot outside RFK Stadium, dwarfed by a pair of screens that alternately displayed the speakers and family photos. Guests sat in parked cars that they had been asked not to leave, except for visits to a row of yellow portable toilets.
Yet the habits of human interaction amid intense loss aren’t easy to overcome. Before the service began, a few people in masks exited their cars. Some spoke in small clusters. Others, like Jim and Julie Chelius, simply stood by themselves in the warming April sunlight.
They were from New Jersey. Julie met Tommy’s mother, Sarah Bloom Raskin, at law school. She remembered how the family would stop to visit on trips up or down I-95, Tommy and his dad dueling in fake sword fights in the yard to release pent-up energy from the drive.
“This pandemic makes everything harder,” Julie said, looking around at the Subarus, Volkswagens and Hondas filling up the lot, some with Jamie Raskin bumper stickers. “All the regular rituals of life.”
Jim stared toward the stage.
“The timing’s been just awful,” he said softly. “Everything that happened at the Capitol and everything, I just . . .”
On the last day of 2020, Tommy, a 25-year-old student at Harvard Law School, took his own life after struggling with depression.
“Please forgive me. My illness won today,” he wrote in a note left for his parents. “Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me. All my love, Tommy.”
A week later, Raskin — who had come to the Capitol the day after burying his son to certify the victory of President Biden — found his own life in danger as a pro-Trump mob overran the seat of American government. His daughter, Tabitha, who had come to bolster her father amid the family’s grief, hid under a desk as the building went into lockdown.
Tabitha was the first one to climb onto the stage Saturday.
“I couldn’t fathom a memorial where we could not see each other,” she said. Her remarks — like the rest that would be made — were broadcast over a radio frequency guests played inside their parked cars.
Those guests could see each other, but not well. Blinding sunlight reflected off the vehicles’ windows, obscuring the faces within. Flashes of white occasionally appeared as the mourners lifted tissues to their faces. When they exited the cars, to use the bathroom or stretch their legs, they were masked and frequently wore sunglasses. A low undertone filled the parking lot as engines idled.
They sat through eulogies and video tributes, through speeches by Tommy’s sisters and mother. They heard of his humor and driving idealism, his blue eyes and his Boggle obsession. There was a video clip of him, while a student at Amherst College, sparring with conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, and other footage of his spoken-word poems exploring the ethical dimensions of his veganism.
They heard from a childhood friend who admitted she was terrified of the things about Tommy she might one day forget. They heard recited, repeatedly, the saying of Tommy’s that now seemed indelible in the memories of those who loved him: “It’s hard to be a human.”
And then, finally, they heard from Tommy’s father. The congressman had led impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump over the Capitol riot, arguing eloquently — though ultimately unsuccessfully — for conviction on the Senate floor. Now, as he addressed the cars arrayed before him, he began to choke back sobs.
“I have lost my son,” Raskin said, his voice trembling. “I have lost something so fundamental and elemental to my life that I am not sure at times that I even recognize the world.”
He stepped down from the stage. For a moment, the parking lot was silent. Then the cars began to pull out of their spaces and drive away.