May 7, 2022 | 3:34pm
Nearly a week after losing her mother, Naomi Judd, Ashley Judd channeled her shock and grief into an essay.
This Mother’s Day is marked by an onslaught of grief and ambivalence for Ashley Judd.
The actress channeled her shock and sadness into a moving essay for USA Today Friday, six days after losing her mom, country music star Naomi Judd, in a reported suicide at age 76.
Ashley, 54, emphasized from the outset that her heart is “replete with gratitude” for what her mother left behind: “Her nurture and tenderness, her music and memory.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” she wrote. “I was supposed to visit her on Sunday, to give her a box of old-fashioned candy, our family tradition. We were supposed to have sweet delight in each others’ easy presence. Instead, I am unmoored.”
But Ashley quickly moved on to express another dimension of her admittedly complicated emotional state: “Perhaps it’s indecorous to say, but my heart is filled with something else, too. Incandescent rage. Because my mother was stolen from me by the disease of mental illness, by the wounds she carried from a lifetime of injustices that started when she was a girl. Because she was a girl.”
Naomi’s “unintended pregnancy at age 17 … led her down a road familiar to so many adolescent mothers, including poverty and gender-based violence,” Ashley continued, by way of alluding to the specific root causes of said “injustices.”
The “Ruby in Paradise” star and her sister, Wynonna Judd, announced on April 30 that they had lost their “beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness.”
Naomi had long struggled with depression, which ostensibly stemmed from past traumas including sexual and childhood abuse.
It was far from lost on Ashley that her family’s tragedy — already fraught with deeply sensitive and profoundly personal issues around mental health and motherhood — happened to coincide with the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that signaled the imminent demise of federally assured access to safe abortion.
In her essay, Ashley highlighted a series of startling and disturbing statistics about pregnant women, touching on the many physical and even lethal risks giving birth can carry.
Most unnerving out of the research she cited is a 2021 study that found the leading causes of “pregnancy-associated deaths” over the past 15 years to be “homicide, suicide and drug overdose,” with “intimate partner violence” being a prevalent contributing factor.
It’s worth noting that there is no shortage of scientific evidence demonstrating how trauma often drastically alters the physical makeup of one’s brain, potentially leading to a litany of mental health issues that have nothing to do with the willpower, self-discipline or moral integrity of those affected.
Not that Ashley was ever second-guessing the irreproachable determination and soaring resilience of Naomi’s character.
“My mama was a legend. She was an artist and a storyteller, but she had to fight like hell to overcome the hand she was dealt, to earn her place in history,” she wrote, stressing that Naomi “shouldn’t have had to fight that hard to share her gifts with the world.”
In any case, the tragic loss seems to have only stiffened Ashley’s resolve.
Her essay concluded with a heartfelt call to arms of sorts: “This Mother’s Day, I choose to honor my mama for the person she was, a mother and so much more. And I ask you to honor your own mother, if you are lucky enough to have her. Honor her for more than her labor and sacrifice. Honor her for her talents and dreams. Honor her by demanding a world where motherhood, everywhere, is safe, healthy — and chosen.”
Ashley and Wynonna, 57, came together on May 1, less than 24 hours after announcing their mom’s death, to celebrate Wynonna and Naomi’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Both sisters broke down in tears during the emotional ceremony.
If you or someone you know is affected by any of the issues raised in this story, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text Crisis Text Line at 741741.