The singer discussed her mother’s struggle with mental illness in a new interview.
Warning: This article discusses suicide, and could be triggering to some readers.
While the days since Naomi Judd’s tragic passing on April 30 have seen the world of country music share love and empathy, there have also been rumors around the circumstances that led to the singer-songwriter’s death. She and her daughter, Wynona, were scheduled to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame just a day before the news broke. On Thursday, her other daughter, actress Ashley Judd, sat down at her Tennessee home with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America to candidly discuss the family tragedy and the traumas her mother endured. She tearfully revealed that Naomi did in fact die by suicide.
“I want to address why we’re doing this,” Ashley began, saying she had been “deputized” by the family to speak on their behalf, “before things about the 30th of April become public without our control.” It’s unfortunate that the family felt pressured to reveal private details so early, but considering the nature of what Judd referred to as the “gossip economy,” it’s understandable that they would want to control the narrative and preserve their mother’s dignity as much as possible. Judd also had a powerful message about mental health awareness stemming from her mother’s painful struggle.
“When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s important to make a distinction between our loved one and the disease. It’s very real. It lies. It’s savage,” she said. “Our mother couldn’t hang on until she was inducted into the Hall of Fame by her peers. That’s the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her, because the barrier between the regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart. And the lie that the disease told her was so convincing. The lie that you’re not enough, that you’re not loved, that you’re not worthy. Her brain hurt. It physically hurt.”
“Once I say it, it cannot be unsaid,” Judd emotionally began as she opened up about the details of April 30. “She used a weapon, mother used a firearm. ... That’s the piece of information that we’re very uncomfortable sharing, but if we don’t say it, someone else is going to.” Judd also revealed that on April 30, Naomi, whom she visited every day when in Tennessee, had asked her to stay over. Ashley obliged, and went outside to welcome a “comforting person” who had arrived. When she went upstairs to let Naomi know that they were there, she discovered her mother’s body. “I have both grief and trauma from discovering her,” she admitted.
Having revealed all of those details, Judd also sincerely asked the public to respect the family’s privacy on anything else pertaining to her mother’s passing. “There are some things we’d like to retain as a family,” she said. She also pleaded for “anyone who is having those ideas or those impulses, to talk to someone, to share, to be open, to be vulnerable,” and shared the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Judd ended the segment with heartbreaking details about her loving relationship with a mother who was burdened by mental illness. “I really accepted the love my mother was capable of giving me because I knew she was fragile,” she said. “... Every time we hugged, and she drank me in, I was very present for those tactile experiences, because I knew there would come a time that she would be gone, whether it was sooner or whether it was later, whether it was by the disease or by another cause.” She remembered as “a brilliant conversationalist. She was a star. She was an underrated songwriter, and she was someone who struggled with mental illness...an unfailingly kind, loving, sensitive woman.” Judd also included a letter from her sister Wynona, who wrote: “I need to take some time to process. And I need this time to myself. I’m not ready yet to speak publicly about what happened, so I know you understand why I’m not there today.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, or text “talk” to 741741.