In a new op-ed for The New York Times, Ashley Judd has called for revisions to law enforcement and court practices that “wreak havoc on mourning families” who are dealing with the death by suicide of a loved one.
The emotional op-ed sees Judd recounting the aftermath of the death of her mother, Naomi Judd, in April. The actress describes the experience as “the most shattering day of my life” and reveals she “felt cornered and powerless as law enforcement officers began questioning me while the last of my mother’s life was fading.”
“The trauma of discovering and then holding her laboring body haunts my nights,” Judd wrote in the article. “As my family and I continue to mourn our loss, the rampant and cruel misinformation that has spread about her death, and about our relationships with her, stalks my days. The horror of it will only worsen if the details surrounding her death are disclosed by the Tennessee law that generally allows police reports, including family interviews, from closed investigations to be made public.”
“I felt cornered and powerless as law enforcement officers began questioning me while the last of my mother’s life was fading,” she continued. “I wanted to be comforting her, telling her how she was about to see her daddy and younger brother as she ‘went away home,’ as we say in Appalachia. Instead, without it being indicated I had any choices about when, where and how to participate, I began a series of interviews that felt mandatory and imposed on me that drew me away from the precious end of my mother’s life. And at a time when we ourselves were trying desperately to decode what might have prompted her to take her life on that day, we each shared everything we could think of about Mom, her mental illness and its agonizing history.”
She added that the experience made her feel like she was “a possible suspect in my mother’s suicide.” Last month, Judd, her sister Wynonna and their mother’s husband Larry Strickland petitioned authorities in Tennessee to seal the police reports related to her death. Judd explained that the motion was not to keep secrets, but instead “because privacy in death is a death with more dignity.”
“Not only does making such material public do irreparable harm to the family,” Judd affirmed. “It can act as a contagion among a population vulnerable to self-harm.” She added, “I hope that leaders in Washington and in state capitals will provide some basic protections for those involved in the police response to mental health emergencies. Those emergencies are tragedies, not grist for public spectacle.”
Naomi Judd died by suicide on April 30, the day before Judd and daughter Wynonna were scheduled for enshrinement in the Country Hall of Fame. In May, Judd revealed that her mother “used a firearm” in an interview with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America.
“My mother — our mother — couldn’t hang on until she was inducted into the [Country Music] Hall of Fame by her peers. That is the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her,” Judd said in the interview. “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.”