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Ashley Judd reflects on mom Naomi's 'irreplaceable loss' a year after the country star's death

Ashley Judd is reflecting on the death of mother Naomi one year later. (Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
Ashley Judd is reflecting on the death of mother Naomi one year later. (Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Ashley Judd is marking one year without her mother, country star Naomi Judd. The Judds matriarch died by suicide at age 76 on April 30, 2022 after struggling with mental illness.

In an essay, titled Ashley Judd: A Year of Grief and Learning Without My Mom, published by Time.com on Saturday, the Double Jeopardy star opens up about mourning her mother and experiencing milestones in her absence.

"Earlier this month, I walked through my first birthday without her, a rite of passage everyone experiences with the death of their parents.," Judd, who turned 55 on April 19, writes. "At the shop where Mom and I always selected our cards, I read the 'To Daughter' birthday cards and imagined which one Mom would have given me: She always chose the gooiest and most expressive, underlined the parts she thought most meaningful, and of course, wrote by hand her own message addressed to 'Sweetpea.' I felt her love as I read the card I imagined she would have picked. A beautiful ouch. And I remembered how every year on my special day, Mama would recount giving birth to me, sharing with the sweetest smile how she felt when she held me for the first time, what I smelled like, and what an easy baby I was."

Judd also shares that she has recently "started to sit in sacred presence" with her mother's items, from decades-old planners to "her strands of red hair in her brush."

"These intimate exchanges with the private fortify me," she writes. "They remind me of the interior landscape of my mother’s soul, the innocent God-scape that somehow remained untouched by the mental illness that marred her life. And they summon the welcoming sound of my mother’s voice pealing like bells whenever she saw me stride barefoot onto her back porch."

The late singer, who found country stardom as one-half of the Judds alongside older daughter Wynonna Judd, suffered greatly in her life, her youngest child notes. Judd ticks off each injustice, from sexual assault at the hands of her great-uncle at age 4, to rape and intimate partner abuse, to workplace harassment while raising her two daughters as a single mother.

"These assaults and violations, from which she never did heal, remained a source of unresolved agony and fed her mental illness," the actress notes. "Yet she did her utmost to fight back with the skills she had. In conversation she declared #MeToo; in her journals she wrote it; and in collages she made in therapy she expressed her trauma in Technicolor."

The singer, Judd writes, shared her "outrage" about issues like male violence and sexual trafficking. Judd, who has been heavily involved in the #MeToo movement after speaking out about disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein derailing her career, is pledging to carry on the fight on her mother's behalf.

"On her behalf, I will continue to be 'audacious,' as she called me, in my full-hearted, full-throated fight for freedom from the male entitlement to female bodies," she writes. "With April being not only the anniversary of her passing but also Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I will therefore accept in her honor the Lifetime Igniting Impact Award from the World Without Exploitation, which works to create a world where no one is bought, sold or exploited. I will continue to agitate for the Equality Model, which advocates holding sex buyers, pimps and brothel keepers accountable for their demand for vulnerable human bodies. People who support the full decriminalization of sex buying, brothel keeping and pimping — which has been proposed around the country – flummoxed Mom. That is part of my commitment to her legacy and one way in which to honor he depth of our relationship, both as her child and a fellow survivor."

Noting the invasive ways in which details of her mother's death was reported, Judd is also vowing to "channel my mother's hallmark grit" by advocating for laws protecting the privacy of families "ravaged by death by suicide," including "more responsible reporting."

"It is neither ethical nor decent to publish the kind of invasive details about death by suicide that appeared in print and on the internet after her death," adds Judd, who will join her sister Wynonna in accepting the Lifesaver Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for their working to destigmatize mental illness.

"This is an award I would never have wanted to be given, yet one I will accept on my knees, bloody as they are from a year of falling, crawling and getting back up again," she writes.

According to Judd, Mercy Community Healthcare of Franklin, Tenn., will be naming its new mental-health facility in memory of her late mother. The center treats underserved communities and offers sliding-scale payments, which the star says "would be a balm" for her mom, who was upset that "people hurt and that they could not access the care she could."

Judd finishes her essay by sharing how she has "learned how I can make the irreplaceable loss of my mom serve her legacy." As such she is channeling her grief into advocating for causes important to the late singer.

"I have been comforted, by the work I’ve done to commemorate my mother, and by the many who also walk in and with grief and have shared theirs with me," she writes. "Though no one can do our grief for us, it is also true that none of us need do it alone."

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.