Ashley Judd reflected on “the most shattering day of my life” in a heartbreaking guest op-ed in the New York Times published Wednesday (August 31). She opened up about why she’s calling for legal change to help other grieving families keep sensitive details from being made public. She also explained the family's decision to file a petition int he courts to keep information about the investigation into her mother's death private.
Ashley wrote about the day her mother, beloved country artist Naomi Judd, died unexpectedly in an essay titled The Right to Keep Private Pain Private. Ashley and her sister, Wynonna Judd — who sang with Naomi in the iconic country duo, The Judds — confirmed on April 30 that they “lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.” Naomi died of a self-inflicted wound from a gun. She was 76. Both the autopsy report — a public record in the state of Tennessee — and a tearful interview Ashley gave earlier this year confirmed the tragic cause of death.
Ashley wrote in her New York Times guest essay on Wednesday about the “trauma” she experienced on the day her mother died, which still “haunts my nights.” She shared what it was like to give police interviews, explaining her hopes of changing the “terrible, outdated procedures and methods of interacting with family members who are in shock or trauma…,” and in particular, families who have lost a loved one because of suicide. Ashley noted that, because of the law enforcement interview process, she even felt “as if I was a possible suspect” in her mother’s death.
The Judd family filed a petition this month to prevent the investigation file from public disclosure, including those interviews with police that were conducted “at a time when we were at our most vulnerable and least able to grasp that what we shared so freely that day could enter the public domain,” Ashley wrote in her New York Times op-ed. She explained:
“We have asked the court to not release these documents not because we have secrets. We have always been an uncannily open family, which explains part of the public’s love for my mother. Folks identified with her honesty about her mistakes, admired her for her ability to survive hardship and delighted in her improbable stardom. We ask because privacy in death is a death with more dignity. And for those left behind, privacy avoids heaping further harm upon a family that is already permanently and painfully altered.”
Ashley wrote that the family is united and believes that their privacy — and the privacy of other families facing similar losses of loved ones — should remain protected and out of the public eye. The Judd family is still waiting for a decision from the courts.
Ashley also called for a reform of law enforcement procedures when it comes to public information. Acknowledging the need for officials to investigate, Ashley states that “there is absolutely no compelling public interest in the case of my mother to justify releasing the videos, images and family interviews that were done in the course of that investigation. Quite the contrary.”
Naomi “should be remembered for how she loved, which was with goofy humor, glory onstage and unfailing kindness off it — not for the private details of how she suffered when she died,” her daughter wrote.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide or is in emotional distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.