Ashley Judd opens up about grieving her mother Naomi Judd's death

Ashley Judd, 54, opens up about her ‘exceedingly difficult’ struggle to come to terms with her mom Naomi’s ‘abrupt and painful’ death by suicide: ‘My world is upside-down’

  • The actress, 54, opened up about the difficulties of dealing with grief following her mother country music icon Naomi Judd’s death by suicide
  • Speaking on the Healing with David Kessler podcast, Ashley said: ‘It was abrupt and painful and my world is upside-down’
  • Naomi, who died when she was 76, had a long struggle with mental illness, which Ashley said was related to her death on April 30
  • She explained that her sister Wynonna, 58, and her had been dealing with the loss of their mother differently but relying on each other for support 
  • Later in the podcast, Ashley, who is a three-time rape survivor, revealed she had sat down with one of her rapists and had a conversation with him 

Ashley Judd has opened up about the difficulties of dealing with grief following her mother country music icon Naomi Judd’s death by suicide, admitting during a candid interview that her world has been ‘upside-down’ since her mom killed herself in April.

Ashley, 54, sat down with grief expert David Kessler, 63, on his podcast Healing and discussed her mother, the country music icon and lead singer of The Judds’ death. 

The actress told Kessler on his podcast that premiered Tuesday: ‘It was abrupt and painful and my world is upside-down.’ 

Naomi, who died when she was 76, had a long struggle with mental illness, which Ashley said led to her death on April 30.

The actress and humanitarian added: ‘I look back on my childhood and I realize I grew up with a mom who had an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.’ 

Ashley Judd (right) opened up about the difficulties of dealing with grief following her mother country music icon Naomi Judd’s death by suicide

Ashley, 54, sat down with grief expert David Kessler on his podcast Healing and discussed her mother, the country music icon and lead singer of The Judds death

Naomi, who died when she was 76, had a long struggle with mental illness, which Ashley attributed to her death on April 30

Ashley recalled the ‘different behavioral expressions, interactions, flights of fancy, choices that she made that I understand were an expression of the disease, 

‘And I understand that and know that she was in pain and can today understand that she was absolutely doing the best she could, and if she could have done it differently, she would have.’

The daughter of the country music legend said she hopes that when her mother died, she was able to ‘let go of any guilt or shame that she carried for any shortcoming she may have had in her parenting of my sister  [Wynonna] and me because certainly on my end all was forgiven — all was forgiven long ago.’

Despite dealing with the aftermath of their mother’s life-long struggle with mental illness, both Ashley and her sister Wynonna, 58, had to empathize with the struggles their mother dealt with due to her mental illness disease. 

Ashley added: ‘[I had] to understand that her [mother’s] mental illness was a disease. I didn’t cause it, I couldn’t control it and I couldn’t cure it.’

The actress promised herself she would let go of the control she had over her mother’s treatment and allow Naomi to make her decisions, even when she didn’t think they were the right ones. 

‘There were times when she got excellent and expert professional help and choose not to pursue that in the ways that I thought were better for her,’ Ashley revealed. ‘I had to respect her autonomy and give her the dignity of making those decisions for herself — even when I thought her thinking was distorted.’

Ashely explained that after she let go of the ability to make decisions for her mother’s medical care, she found herself often worrying about her mother’s health. 

She explained the thoughts that often crossed her mind: ‘What if she doesn’t stay at this medical detox? What if she doesn’t get help at this place that treats dual diagnosis? What happens if she doesn’t go to these meetings? Oh my god, now she’s fired that person…’.

Ashley added that her own grieving process was different from her other family members, including Wynonna and Naomi’s husband Larry Strickland, 76, who had their own version of dealing and healing from the grief of losing Naomi. 

She said: ‘One of the things that I think we have done well as a family — meaning my pop, my sister Wynonna and me — is we have really given each other the dignity and the allowance to grieve in our individual and respective ways,

‘And yet we’ve been able to completely stick together. So we can be at the same supper table and recognize, ‘Oh, this one’s in anger, this one’s in denial, this one’s in bargaining, this one’s in acceptance, I’m in shock right now.’

She added the most important aspect of their family’s relationship is making sure they understand they will never grieve the same way, she said they ‘don’t try to control or redirect or dictate how the other one should be feeling.’ 

Despite Ashley and her family allowing each other to grieve independently, the actress admitted that they continuously visit and lean on each other for emotional support during this difficult time. 

‘I have had some of the most sacred and holy experiences with my pop [who] comes over every morning, she added. ‘I wake up and I do my readings and my writing and my meditation practice and connect with my partner. Then pop comes over and I make his coffee and his breakfast and we sit and we grieve together… Those times are so holy and we may be in slightly different places and yet we’re in community.’ 

She further revealed that just one day before Wynonna hit the road for the final tour of The Judds without Naomi, she visited Ashley and the two reminisced on the times they spent with their beloved mother. 

Larry Strickland, Ashley Judd’s father and Naomi’s husband of 32 years, said: ‘Naomi Judd’s family request privacy during this heartbreaking time’

Ashley said that both her and Wynonna have had different paths of healing and she had to learn to accept that was okay (Wynonna and Naomi pictured performing in 1994)

 The actress and humanitarian added: ‘I look back on my childhood and I realize I grew up with a mom who had an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness’

Ashley noted her sister was dealing with the loss of their mother differently than her and added: ‘She’s in a pretty different place than I am right now, and we don’t have to be congruent in order to have compassion for each other. I had to let go of this controlling notion that yours needs to look like mine. I mean, that’s really egocentric.’

And although she has come a long way in her healing process, Ashley admitted to Kessler she is still processing the trauma of finding her beloved mother dead on that April day.  

She explained: ‘My mother did die by suicide with a gunshot wound — and I’m the one who found her and was with her and walked her home and so this is exceedingly difficult for me… It’s going to be with me for a long time.’

The actress further revealed that she struggles with the trauma everyday and described a moment in time she felt her trauma was heightened when she was at a theme park in Germany which took her back to the day that will forever be engrained into her memory. 

‘There was a Wild West show. And there was a stunt show,’ she said. ‘They had lots of gunfire and I couldn’t get out of the audience because they had closed it due to the pyrotechnics … and I became so disregulated. My breathing was rapid and shallow. I got as far away from the stage and the sounds of it as I could.’

Ashley revealed the event did a ‘number on [her]’ and she had to dart towards the back of the audience and listen to music with her earbuds to help her calm down. 

Despite not naming him, the actress credited her partner, who is said to be Harvard professor Martin Surbeck, for his support and care during the event.

Ashley told Kessler she was grateful to have a ‘very safe partner’ whom she can always turn to for support. 

Later in the podcast, Ashley opened up about her sexual assault and shared she was a three-time rape survivor. 

Later in the podcast Ashley (pictured in 2019) revealed she was a three-time rape survivor and said she sat down with one of her rapists to have a ‘restorative-justice conversation’

was sexually assaulted in 1999 and, several years later, ‘tried to find’ her attacker, who ‘surfaced very easily’ so they were able to meet (pictured in May 1999)

In 2017, Ashley accused convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing her (seen together in 1997)

She revealed that she sat down with one of the men who raped her to have a ‘restorative-justice conversation’, detailing how she tracked down her attacker and ended up ‘sitting in rocking chairs by a creek’ with him.

Several years after she was raped and assaulted in 1999, the actress said that she ‘tried to find’ her attacker, explaining that he ‘surfaced very easily’, allowing her to arrange a meeting with him. 

Speaking on the Healing podcast, Ashley said: ‘To make a long story short, we ended up in rocking chairs sitting by a creek together. 

‘And I said, ‘I’m very interested in hearing the story you’ve carried all these years’. And we had a restorative-justice conversation about that.

‘I wanted to share that story because there are many ways of healing from grief, and it’s important to remind listeners that I didn’t need anything from him. 

‘It was just gravy that he made his amends and expressed his deep remorse, because healing from grief is an inside job.’

Ashley – who also accused convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment in 2017 – said: ‘One loses safety. I lost a sense of trust.’ 

She said: ‘I was very clear, my boundaries were intact. I was already an empowered, adult feminist woman. 

‘And that this could happen under these circumstances was unconscionable, unforeseen, and yet I have had a restorative-justice process with this person out of how replete my soul is today.’

The actress was keen to stress she didn’t need the ‘cooperation’ of her rapist when he agreed to have the meeting, or for him to ‘make amends’ or ‘do anything differently in order for me to have a process that was independent from that previous asymmetry of power.’

Speaking on the Healing with David Kessler podcast, Ashley (pictured in 1999) said, ‘To make a long story short, we ended up in rocking chairs sitting by a creek together’ 

The actress (seen in May) revealed in 2019 that she was a ‘three-time rape survivor’, sharing at the time that she had an abortion after getting pregnant by one of her rapists 

She added that she has taken the appropriate steps to deal with the trauma of finding her mother dead and surviving her assaults, but still encounters struggles 

She added: ‘Because I had the opportunity to do my trauma work, to do my grief work, to do my healing work, to have all these shifts in my own consciousness and to bond in these female coalition spaces with other survivors.’

In 2019, while she was advocating for abortion rights, Ashley shared that she is ‘a three-time rape survivor,’ and recalled how one assault led to a pregnancy which she terminated.

Speaking at the Women in the World conference on a panel being moderated by Katie Couric about the current state of feminism, Ashley said that, should she have made the decision to keep the baby, the father would have been granted custody rights by the state, despite the fact that he raped her.

She explained that she would have ultimately been forced to ‘co-parent with a rapist’ under the existing laws of the state of Kentucky, where both she and her attacker are from. 

‘What I like to talk about is my personal experience with abortion because as everyone knows – and I’m very open about it – I’m a three-time rape survivor,’ said Judd.

‘And one of the times I was raped there was conception, and I’m very thankful I was able to access safe and legal abortion because that rapist, who is a Kentuckian, as am I, and resides in Tennessee, has paternity rights in Kentucky.

‘So having safe access to abortion was personally important to me, and as I said earlier, you know, democracy starts with the skin,’ explained Judd.

‘We’re not supposed to regulate what we choose to do with our insides.’

It was unclear at the time whether the rape resulted in a conviction, which would have prevented the attacker from having custody or visitation rights in both Kentucky and Tennessee, according to the National Conference of State Legislature.

Judd has become a force in the women’s rights movement over the past few years, with the actress having been the first to speak out against Harvey Weinstein years before other women went public with their own stories.

Double Jeopardy star Judd also spoke out about the abuse she has suffered at the hands of numerous men, including an unnamed family member, in her 2011 memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet. 

She added she was exposed early and inappropriately to sex because of her mother’s affairs with men. She said that she also witnessed her mom Naomi – who passed away in April – getting involved in fights with men, including one incident when her mother pulled out a gun.

The star detailed attacks against her in 1984, when she was raped twice by one man while another watched on, and then molested by another adult man, revealing that she was 15, at the most 16, at the time. 

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