R.I.P. Tommy

Today I was planning on writing about my ASL class, more specifically I wanted to write about my reaction to a movie that I watched in the class. The movie is called “For a Deaf Son.” it is distributed by PBS and if you are interested on seeing it e-mail me, I will tell you how. Here is a synopsis of the movie.

Annotation The life of four-year-old Thomas Tranchin, born deaf to a hearing family, and the struggle of the producer/director to unlock Thomas’ speech capacities is documented through home video of therapy sessions, classrooms, and workshops. Their struggle in the decision of whether to educate Thomas in sign language versus strictly verbal speech is also documented. Therapists and other families with deaf children are also interviewed. 1/2″ VHS

I have many opinions on the movie, but I am not going to talk about the today, because I am sad to say that Tommy is not with us anymore. I offer condolences to Rob and Laurie Tranchin and their family as they mourn for their son, Thomas , age 15, who died December 9 2003.

The article from where I found the news was originally posted at thetactilemind.com, but the site has since changed.

The movie is touching to say the least. It is very moving, or at least it was to me. I cannot begin to comprehend what it will mean to a deaf person. For now all I wasn to say is Tommy, R.I.P.

59 comments on “R.I.P. Tommy

  1. Hey John it’s been a while… Off subject here, but I checked out your moblog. You have some wonderful pictures there. I love the sunsets and sky shots.

  2. — The comments by Jen the Bitch were just mean spirited and uncalled for since she had no true perspective. I will leave the place for the comment here so the thread is not lost.

    I respectfully think the family and Tommy’s memory deserves respect and will want to make sure that if you have opinions about a movie, do not let those be mixed with the tragedy that it is the loss of a life.

    I do know that Tommy’s death had nothing to do with his hearing. I am not close enough to the family to say why it happened with certainty and will always be open to write about it if the family choses to let me, but that is their decision and not mine.

    I have lost friends to suicide and I can say that it leaves the huge void of a death with the extra pain of the uncertain.

    Be respectful or your comments will simply be removed. I own this space so I get to be the benevolent dictator–

    – Logtar

  3. Sorry to hear about the untimely passing of Tommy — it’s sad when one takes their own lives.
    I wish you heaps of luck in getting the hang of ASL and becoming an interpreter for the deaf. :)
    A deaf American in Australia.

  4. Such a sad story. Poor little fellow. Sometimes being too close to a situation, we don’t see the danger signs. I have to believe that is what happened. I dare not think anything else!!! I am so thankful that all of my children were born healthy and still are. God has blessed me so much!!!

  5. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. YOu have opened my eyes to this. I feel so bad for the boy and also for his family I will never know how hard it was on them and him I am thankful that God blessed me with healthy children. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy your visits.

  6. Jen the bitch you haven’t got a clue. Tom’s family loved him dearly. They struggled with his hearing loss as all hearing parents do. To blame them for his death is disgusting. Doctors, audiologists, speech therapists all told them to use speech, yet you blame the parents. And you arrogantly assume that his suicide had to do with his early communication frustration. Spend some time in the world of deaf kids with hearing families and you’ll see that Tom’s situation wasn’t unique. How dare you decide that his communication struggles precipitated his death? And to suggest that their attempts to educate themselves were bad? Jesus. What is the preferred means, listening to the first person (a doc, an audiologist) who tells you what to do? In that case, he’d have been raised orally.
    Let me guess, you’re an overly zealous sign student?

  7. Amazing how folks hiding behind the anonymity of a computer monitor can make such decisive judgements on a situation like this. I too knew Tommy and his family well and can assure you he was VERY loved by all who knew him. Communicative struggles or the fact he was deaf didn’t slow this kid down a bit – he relished life and didn’t live with anger or resentment hanging over him. His tragic decision to end his life stunned all that knew him – his reasons were his own but I can assure you they were probably over the same things teenagers commit suicide over all the time – girls, grades, athletics, popularity – who knows.

  8. I just saw For a Deaf Son and am writing a opinion paper on it for my ASL 3 class. i wanted to do some more research and to my surprise, I found out Tommy took his own life. Something our Instructor did not mention after the viewing. I was appaled to see Tommy paraded around likes ome animal for show and tell. I could not undersdtand the indecisions of the parents. Tommy really seemed happy when he was using ASL. I am too on my way down the interpreter road.

  9. David, you CHOSE to be part of the deaf world. You were INTERESTED in ASL and CHOSE to pursue it. Tommy’s parent’s didn’t. They had deafness dropped in their laps, and conflicting information from professionals. And, they ad a dream for their son. A dream that grew while he grew in mom’s belly. Perhaps some where in your curriculum you’ll learn about the grieving process, about what families go through when deafness chooses their family, their child. That you “could not understant the indecision of the parents” shows me that your teacher did little to help you understand the complexity of the issues. I show this film in my own interpretation classes, to help my students begin to understand their biases, and their short sighted quick judgements of families. I’m sorry your teacher did not have any goals for you when she assigned this film.

  10. Hi, I felt the need to respond to “the gryphon”. First of all, I agree with your comments to “jen the bitch” (funny name). For many of us, all we HAVE is the documentary that Rob Tranchin made…now 16 years ago. Secondly, I am that “teacher” who did “little to help [David] understand the complexity of the issue”. Unfortunately, I feel I have been misrepresented by my student. I “did not mention [Thomas’ death] after the viewing” because I did not KNOW about his death. I am a close acquaintance of Rebecca, the young girl (now young woman) who was tutoring the family in sign language. She has kept me somewhat informed on his progress yearly. This year we have not talked, although I saw her last in November (before Thomas’ suicide). I JUST showed this film last Thursday, I believe. As SOON as I found out (the following Tues), I informed the class. The news was quite a shock to me, and greatly saddened me.

    That is one issue. The other issue that I feel I must address is the comment that was made about the assumption that I “did little to help you [David, or my class] to understand the complexity of the issues” regarding the grieving process of hearing parents or their own biases and short-sighted judgments of families, or the comment that I “did not have any goals for [my students] when I assigned the film”. On the contrary, we spent two class periods talking about this very issue, as well as other sensitive cultural and historical issues involved. We talked specifically about the process that hearing parents of a deaf child might go through. Many learned to “put themselves in their shoes”, so to speak from this discussion. Furthermore, the film was shown in class, so feedback and discussion was immediately after the viewing.

    I just wanted to clear this up. Our field (ASL, interpreting, deaf education, etc.), is a small one, and there is a real possibility that you and I know each other, or will/have run into each other at interpreting or IPP conventions. I want to maintain a spirit of collegiality, for ourselves, our profession, and as role models for our students. I also hope that ALLLLLLL of us can remember that this is about a life lost and a family’s grief. Please let us all be respectful and mindful of that when we use our words here. And, yes, you are so right when you say that we do NOT know why Thomas took his life. The mere fact that we have access to a video made so long ago is an irresponsible reason to be using for this act of suicide. Most of us do NOT know what has transpired in that family’s life since then.

    I talked to the KERA office this week, and sent an email to Rob Tranchin to express my sympathy to his family and to let him know tht his documentary, and Thomas himself, have touched many lives sinec its distribution.

    Thank you for letting me express myself here.

    We are in this together, I hope.


  11. Thanks much ASLLina for your comments. Thanks for clarifying that you’ve contextualized this for David and your other students. It’s a tragedy, I hope we can all at least learn something from it. My ultimate goal is for everyone to understand the complexity of the situation. Thanks for understanding my frustration, and I apologize if I’ve offended you.

  12. Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to respond, gryphon. Let’s stay in touch regarding this.


  13. And thank you, too, logtar. I have sent a message to Rebecca and am waiting for her response. More soon…


  14. for those of you who have amazingly diagnosed his suicide as one cause by his parent’s indecision, i say shame on you. I knew tommy well, and his parents were ordinary people put in an extraordinary position…and when it came to his happiness and education, they came out on top. Tommy’s death was caused by nothing more than an argument over television watching which began a series of events that led a happy, life loving fifteen year old to accidently take a scare tactic too far and end up dead. If any of you are attributing this to his deafness and his fight to communicate, i understand why you’d make those connections, but i’m sorry to say that you are wrong. Not to take away from the seriousness of the issues facing parents with a deaf child, but in this case, you’re way off.

  15. I am not sure about this guy. I haven’t see this. Maybe I’ll find out if I can borrow this video. One must be careful the intention of this video shown in an ASL class. One must be careful that the ASL teacher is not trying to make the student believe that the oral approach is a bad idea. I am not saying all ASL teachers are like that, but there are some that takes too much pride in ASL to disregard any other methods to teach deaf children. It’s funny because he was on video, now it’s still show on video to people….I don’t know the problem, so I can’t comment about that until I find the video.

  16. I have a comment for Jen the bitch, First of all about your comment about hearing parent family struggled with his hearing loss as all hearing parents do, is full of crap! Let me tell you something here. I became deaf at the age of 5, and My hearing parent found out that my sister and I are deaf, and the only person who cannot accept the fact that we are deaf is my mother, She wanted to leave us behind in a hospital and walk away. My dad is the only one who accept my deafness he the one who put me in school to the right path to learn speech and ASL. I wouldn’t be speaking so well if it wasn’t for my father. I haven’t seen the video yet about Tommy. So, I cannot comment about Tommy at this time.

  17. This story touched me in so many ways. I am taking ASL as a part of my major but When i saw the story of tommy it made me relze omething that even though i was a hearing person i wanted to be apart of the death community and i want to help out with the deaf community.

  18. tommy was an ispiration to all who knew them, please don’t make assumptions as to how or why he did why he did, remember him for his countless accomplishments, just as I will. thanx

  19. I am taking ASL 1 in college and we watched the film, ‘For a Deaf Son’. I thought to do some research and to my surprised he is no longer with us. Which really breaks my heart because I know he would be 17 years old because he was born the year as my brother. I mourn his lost.

  20. Hi i was friends with Tommy for awile he was a really good guy and please whoever blamed Tommys death on his parents take that comment back beacause you dont even know the situation…

  21. Knox, I have battled with the thought of removing the bad comments here… but at the same time I want to let people speak a little of what they feel. Even thought personally I think they are wrong, people like you speaking (knowingly) about how great Tommy was make more of an impact than someone that has a wrong opinion of the situation.

  22. Did his parents decide to give him full access to ASL. As a hearing parent, I cried as I watched the story. I became angry with his mom. My son is eleven and I KNOW him. Thank God for ASL. English is not less valuable. When we chose to value ASL, I faced many woman that felt ASL was disableing.

  23. I appreciate this entry by Logtar and its subsequent responses. I’m a new ASL student and while I have opinions about how deaf and hard-of-hearing children should be educated regarding language, I was just stunned to hear about Tommy’s death. I’ve been researching it as much as possible in order to stem the flow of rumors about it in the ASL classes here. I would like to know if anyone can direct me to where I can find out about the course of language he and his family ended up persuing after the video was made. Did he eventually become oral? Was his family able to accept his deafness and learn a language they could all communicate with? Thank you again for any assistance, and thank you, Logtar, for your blog.

  24. Everything I know has been posted, the reaction paper I wrote is here. I will some day write a little memorial page for Tommy because his story did touch my heart, but I want to wait until someone close to him allows me to do so. I want to make sure that it is both respectful and in accordance to what those close to him wishes might be.

  25. my asl teacher knew the family she taught them asl. they eventually taught him asl and he was mainstreamed. there was only one other hearing person in his school and he wanted to go to a school for the deaf but his parents didn’t want him to. this isn’t neccessarily the reason that he committed suicide, but more than likely it did add to what all was going wrong in his life. his mom is the one that found him and she feels like it’s her fault. it is, by no means, her fault! it’s no one’s fault…surely they could’ve talked to him if they had only known how unhappy he was…suicide is NEVER the option it’s selfish and i’m sorry that he felt that he needed to do it because it was his only way out…it broke many hearts and i’m sorry that he’s no longer around! it was a shock to all

  26. My ASL class recently watched this movies in class. Afterwards we all had the same question. “What happened to Tommy and his family?” We were all saddened to heard that he died of accidental suicide, not intentional suicide. The choices that his family in no way led to his suicide. Hopefully everyone that watches this movie will get an understaning of both sides of what it is like to have a deaf child. No one can say Rebecca was wrong or right with her thinking or decisions, we are not and she has the right to feel the way she did. I am pretty sure that she isnt the only one who has felt this way. But when this film was made we didnt know than what we know not about deafness, and it must have been frightening to learn that her son would never hear or understand something as simple as I love you. Before you pass judgment on her stop and think about what you would feel if you were put in her situation.

  27. I just recently had to watch this movie in my second year asl class, this movie made me kind of mad because of how the parents wanted him to be oral. i also think this is funny because the parents didnt want tommy to take the easy way out and use sign but then they turn around and take the easy way out by making him learn oral so it would be easier on them to hopefully understand him, isnt that kind of contradictory? i felt that this was a very heartwrenching but good educational movie…
    RIP Tommy

  28. I watched this movie in my Issues inside a Deaf Culture class and someone asked what is going on with Tommy now? Someone googled it while in class and said he died. We were not sure how so I decided to check it out and I found this website. I found it very sad to learn that he took his life, but found it somewhat comforting to see it was not intentional. This story and my class have inspired me and helped me know what I should do if I were ever put in the same situation. I think it is very important for children to learn how to speak, but I would never deprive them of the Deaf World and culture. My husband and I have talked about it and they would go hand in hand, but I would never disrespect the Deaf Culture and deprive my child of being the best they could. I just want to thank Tommy’s dad for making this film, and say thank you to his mom for warming up and letting him learn sign. I could only imagine the heart ach a mother would feel when going through that situation and not really knowing who to trust. At first I felt anger towards her, but the more I think about it she had every right to with hold and be scared and not know what to do. It is not anyone’s place to say she was in the wrong, because they were not her, and going through those experiences.

  29. My class recently watched “For a Deaf Son”, our prof. did not know what had Happened to Thomas and a class mate found out and just told us. Having loss a good friend to suicide, i can feel some of what his parents went through. No one will know what happened to Thomas, blaming his parents does nothing but harm them and his memory. to anyone who has loss some one to this kind of tragedy, you know what i mean, it seem everyone blames them self but in reality, you cant, we dont know why these things happen. I just pray that his family has been able to move on and greive the loss of their son, and know remeber and look back on the good times that they had with thier son.

  30. Please believe that your parent’s did every thing that they were supposed to. It is very hard to deal with what God put’s before us .I know in my heart that they helpped your brother as much as they could. Now it is in God’s hands.Your brother had more friends than he ever new. I have lived through many of the same things. I will always remember him as if he were my own brother…..

  31. Anyone, one that has said anything bad or negative about Thomas, Mathew, or there parents need to go back to church and ask God for forgivness. goodluck and God bless.

    With much love,
    Paula G

  32. What ever happened to Thomas’s brother mathew? Iwould really like to hear that he is doing well. I will continue to pray for the family.

  33. Tommy is a beautiful boy and always will be he always gave me a hug when i saw him and we had fun everyday in art and I will never forget the amazing memories I have shared with him if you wanna even try and talk shit about him or his parents than you are fuckin with the wrong crowd the Tranchin’s are absolutely amazing parents and you will never know exactly what they have had to go through i love you soooooooo much Tommy Shy Tranchin and you will always be in my heart

  34. No one knows what was going through Tommy’s mind that night. My first thoughts were, of course, that it was intentional. Then I started believing that it was an attempt to relieve anger, an “I’ll show my parents” that got out of hand, But as time has passed and I see more and more articles regarding teens dying of the “Choking Game” I have to believe that this makes a far more reasonable explanation for what happened.


    Tommy was deaf, but that was only part of who he was. To look at this tragedy and immdeiately opine that it had anything to do with his deafness is to turn him into a one dimensional caricature that is, frankly, offensive. There was far more to Tommy than that.

  35. I watched the movie today and I got really pissed off at the mother because she kept on denying Thomas’ s deafness and I felt that she was somewhat selfish and still in denial. She went to Gallaudet University and saw how accessible and intelligent deaf students were but she still chose to force Thomas to speak and spend endless hours in speech and audiology classes. I suspect the communication struggle Thomas felt was a part of the reason why he commited sucicide.

  36. I watched the video in my Special Populations class and thought that Jen was a bitch also. But now that I think of it she was just trying to do what was best for Thomas, she just was way too indecisive. They also took too long to figure out what they needed to do for him. I was saddened by his death and hope people will look at the hard decision the parents had to make and understand that all they wanted was the best for Thomas. This is my opinion!

  37. I too watched the same movie in my American Sign Language class. That poor boy all the things he couldn’t say, I started bawling when his dad was saying “tommy I’m sorry I don’t know what you want, I’m sorry please don’t cry.” And tears were running down poor Tommy’s face.
    I felt like his father truely did try and accept his deafness, his mother on the other hand just couldn’t get past the fact that her son wasn’t exactly as she planned him to be. And I mean come on what child is going to be exactly what you expected.
    I was deeply saddend to hear of his death and hope he is in a much better place now. rest in peace tommy.

  38. I would love to see that movie, let me know how if you don’t mind. And, I just want to tell anyone here who even thinks about blaming Rob and Laurie for Tommy’s suicide that they are dead wrong! How dare yoU!! They are the sweetest parents and they are great people. I grew up with Tommy…what he did was not their fault.

  39. I have to add something else. I want to thank everyone who has come on here an defended Rob and Laurie. Tommy’s suicide wasn’t because he was deaf…not that it didn’t influence his life, because it did, but that wasn’t his defining quality and the fact that people are only focusing on the fact that he was deaf is really frustrating to those of us who knew him. He was a great kid. He could make anyone smile and he always had a nice word to say. He was my first friend in a new place and he taught me so much about what it means to overcome obstacles. If you want to believe that all he was, was deaf go ahead but it’s your loss. He was an amazing kid with amazing parents and losing him was the most horrible pain…

  40. Logtar,

    Was the Matthew who made the comment about Thomas’s accidental death and the one who later sent you a personal e-mail, Thomas’s brother Matthew?

  41. I know this will probably not be read being as it has been almost 4 years since Tommy passed on and logtar has not responded to Latricia but… We watched “For a Deaf Son” in my ASL class today. I am very sad for all involved. The loss of a child under ANY circumstances is sad and tragic. I was very frustrated and on the verge of tears almost all day ,as you can imagine, and wanted to first blame Tommy’s parents but as i have delved deeper into the story i find nothing but compassion for Tommy’s family & friends. Thank you everyone for posting on this and clearing a few things up for me.

  42. Duane,

    I did reply to her, but did not post here because I do not know if he was or not. He has never contacted me directly and I have never wanted to put my opinion here. If someone from the family ever wanted to talk back here, it would be welcome.

  43. hi everyone. i’m taking ASL 1 my first time in college. we just watched this video (For A Deaf Son) last week, and like everyone else it seems, we have to write an opinion paper on it as well. just wanted to say i’ve enjoyed reading all the comments and such, and that this video documentary was very interesting and touching.

  44. Logtar, thank you for posting this, i just finished watching the documentary on his first few years as well as many others that have posted comments, my teacher did not bother to mention that he took his own life as well as i suppose many others are. i do not think that he took his life because of his parents, and i wish i knew him or his family personally, i believe he would have grown to be a wonderful person. i am sad that he has passed, especially so young. he would be about my sisters age now, we were blessed to be a nearly full hearing family. we all have some sort of hearing loss, not real bad yet, but im getting there. i also have a deaf cousin, she is a wonderful woman.
    i too have to write a paper, it has to be on his paretns desicions about his deafness and how they dealt with it. any help would be highly welcome!

  45. I saw this yesterday in my ASL 1 class. After the film, we had a brief discussion about particular things we noticed and what opinions we had. Afterward, our teacher read us an email she had gotten in response from Tommy’s father to an inquiry she had made concerning an update on Tommy; it wasn’t what the class (or perhaps just I) was hoping to hear. After the letter, she informed us that shortly after recieving the update, Tommy had committed suicide. It is depressing to say the least, and I was left feeling somewhat angry.

  46. Hi,
    I am very interested in seeing “For a deaf child”. Is is available to view online?

  47. I’m am so sad to hear this news, as I am a ASL student myself and just watchd the show from PBS myself. Our Professor asked if any of knew where Thomas was now. I said “Don’t tell us let us tell you.” this is the web site I found and it is such sad news. The story was great, and sad at the same time. I feel for his parents and would like to say that they did a great job with Thomas. What a sad ending to such a great story, his story was is one of many struggles these families have to go through. I wish the ending was a happy one.

  48. Craig,

    We also watched this as an assignment for a class. I am curious as to what Mr. Tranchin emailed to your teacher-what were the decisions made about Thomas’ education and how did he fare? What was it that you were hoping to hear and why were you disappointed?

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