Ashley Judd says she and other family members agree to disagree about how to mourn Naomi Judd’s death.

Ashley Judd spoke at length about the mental illness that led to the suicide of her mother, Naomi Judd, nearly three months ago, and about the very different sections of grief that she and other family members went through, in an hour-length interview with the Spotify podcast titled “Healing With David Kessler”.

Judd and Kessler agreed that it’s important for audiences who may be grieving to hear from someone in pain, as well as the experts who have appeared on the podcast to address them from more than one distance: distance. “It’s scary to be so vulnerable and so transparent and to talk about acute grief and suffering in real time,” she said. “And I definitely know I’ve been doing this with a lot of other people who’ve had pretty deep losses lately, and I hope that’s something that helps.”

The contrast in grief was a central topic of the podcast. “One of the things that I think we’ve done well as a family—meaning me, pop, my sister, Winona, and I—is that we’ve given each other dignity and allotment to grieve in our own individual and private ways,” Judd Kessler said. “And yet we were perfectly able to stay together. So we could be at the same dinner table and know, ‘Oh, that person is in a rage; This is in denial. This is in bargaining. This one is in admission. I’m in shock now. And we’re not trying to control, redirect or dictate what the other should feel at any given moment.” Ashley said Winona “is in a very different place than I am now. And we don’t have to be identical in order to sympathize with each other. … I had to let go of this overriding notion that your idea needed to look like me. I mean, that’s really selfish, isn’t it? “

Judd said regarding where she is, “I think for the first ten days I was in high performance shock, because there are all things in our society that one attends. … I certainly experienced some denial in the form of just that numbness… I’m not angry yet. I imagine he’s there. I don’t think I’m exempt from the grieving stages. And I’m one-huuuuundred percent suffer from depression.

Judd said her mother did ask for help, but in her eyes, it wasn’t always the right help, something she’s given up on trying to control over the years.

She said that Naomi “walked with a better understanding of her mental illness for several years, because she got two diagnoses correct. And there was one particular thread of help that she really wanted to rely on so badly. And there were so many other reinforcements that could have been helpful. And for whatever reason, Those things weren’t attractive to her.”

Judd said she would disagree at different times with her mother about mental health treatment. “There were times when she had excellent, expert professional help, and chose not to pursue it in the ways I thought best for her. I had to respect her independence and give her the dignity of making those decisions for herself, even when I thought her thinking was distorted.

I am not the judge of right and wrong, and I am resigning from the committee that says you must accept my views. And then what that leaves me, David, is my grief and the loss of my beautiful mother, and my annoyance of “what if this happens?… What if you don’t continue with the medicinal detox? What if you don’t get help at this place that treats double diagnoses? What happens?” If you don’t attend these meetings? Oh my God. Now she’s fired that person. You know, this leaves me feeling responsible, and that’s why I need my recovery. And the best thing family members can do for themselves is get their own help.”

She told Judd Kessler that for most of her life, Naomi’s illness was not recognized as such.

“I look back to my childhood and realize that I grew up with a mother with an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness,” she said. “There are different behavioral expressions, interactions, fantasy journeys, choices she made and I understand it was an expression of illness. I understand that and I know she was in pain and today she can understand that she was absolutely doing her best, and if she could have done it differently, she would have done that.

She continued, “And my most ardent wish for my mother, was that when she moved, it was hoped that she would let go of any guilt or shame she had endured for any shortcomings she might have had in raising my sister and I. Because surely on my part, everything was forgiven a while ago. Long. What I do know for myself is that it takes a strong recovery program to be the woman I am today. I want wellness, vitality, and the greatest possible chance of happiness. And my family happens to come from a lot of grief, a lot of trauma. We have resisted harm for generations. And I believe that It’s in me that I do things differently.”

Judd and Kessler also spoke about different types of grief she experienced earlier in her life, including grief after giving up believing adults could be counted after being sexually abused at age seven and refusing to be accused by those she told them. She has also spoken, in recent years, of contacting a man she said raped her in the 1990s, and persuading him to sit down with her to have a conversation about “corrective justice.” “I didn’t need any of it,” she asserted. “It was just a broth to mend him and express his deep remorse, for the journey with grief and trauma is an inner work.”

Other topics covered in the podcast related to her mother’s death included language related to suicide, such as why it is important to say “died by suicide” rather than using the term “suicide.” Kessler even called himself because he used the word “raised” in front of Judd, while acknowledging that not all of us who handle the case professionally agree that it should be exiled.

Kessler said, “I was speaking at a national conference of therapists, and I did a survey of different therapists on whether we should keep using the word. And most of them said, ‘Yes, it’s the most used word.’ A lot of them started using other words like ’emotional heightening’.” Or “energize.” But in a conversation with Judd, Kessler said on the podcast, “I looked at your face and realized what you said, how you used a word that was so active and heartbreaking for you.”

Judd said she appreciates the “host’s humility as a professional, saying you learn and grow too. I understand that I live in a world that won’t accommodate my very understandable sensitivity about that word, and that I’ll need to take care of myself. … You know, my mom died of a gunshot wound, and I’m from I found her and I was with her and walked home. And that’s very hard for me. And as she helped me understand, it’s not just trauma and not just sadness – it’s painful sadness. And I have a lot of ways to work on pictures and drawings, but they will stay with me for a long time.”

As an example of how things can suddenly start, Judd spoke about being in Germany recently with her partner and attending a Wild West-style stunt show at an amusement park, being unprepared for her reaction when gunplay erupted at length.

“I mean, now, I feel like my arms are starting to flare up even when I’m describing the memories,” she said. “I couldn’t get out of the audience because they closed it because of the fireworks that were going on. I became disorganized, my breathing was fast and shallow. I moved as far as I could from the stage and the sounds of it. I was confined to the back. There was already an exit, but my mind was so confused that I couldn’t even I immediately started texting my community of support girlfriends and my wisdom guru. I put my headphones in my ears and played soothing music, and I knew it was up to me to try and get past this, that I had a few options, but he did a number on me without my permission. You know, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I’m going to have a moment here and revisit my mom’s moment… something“.This happened to me and it surged like an old supersonic plane.”

Judd found a metaphor to describe how she is currently splitting as she deals with grief. “It’s like my mom is the farthest book on the bookshelf in the library. So my daily life or my plans are the books closest — like, ‘Oh, I’m going to Switzerland on Saturday’ or ‘Oh, Brandy Carlisle is in town.’ Then there’s my mom, and I have to pay Other books are out of the way, and then they shock me again.”

Going forward, she said, “I think it would add a few things to my life in terms of more advocacy for mental health awareness. I already know from my speaking engagements, which I enjoy very much, that this is a part of my life that brings me tremendous meaning and connection, talking about health and wellness – These kinds of requests are increasing, which is important to me.” But she said it is still early days to address the trauma, even as she begins her humanitarian work with the United Nations and other organizations abroad.

“The word integration comes to mind. I think smoothness comes to mind,” she said. “Healing is not about letting go of a certain part of the process. It doesn’t mean, oh, I don’t cry anymore, or “This part doesn’t hurt anymore.” I think it’s the opposite, if anything.”

The podcast concludes with a reminder that the new three-digit number for the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline is 988.


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