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"Grief isn’t tidy." For actor Ashley Judd, it’s her first Mother’s Day without her mum.

This post deals with suicide, sexual assault and domestic violence, and might be triggering for some readers.

Last week, actor Ashley Judd and her sister, singer Wynonna Judd announced the passing of their mum Naomi Judd, who was a country music legend in the industry. 

Naomi was 76 when she took her own life following a longtime struggle with mental illness.

For Ashley and Wynonna, it was unexpected. And with Mother's Day so close to their mum's death, it has been challenging for the sisters.

Penning an open essay, Ashley said that given what her mother experienced throughout her life - unintended teen pregnancy, poverty, gender-based violence - Naomi fought incredibly hard against the hand she was dealt. 

Watch: To everyone this Mother's Day. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

For Naomi, her early years were challenging. 

At the age of 17, Naomi fell pregnant the first time she had sex. Naomi later said that first experience was "a date rape". She gave birth to her eldest daughter Wynonna on the night of her high school graduation.

When Naomi called Wynonna's dad to tell him she was pregnant with his child he said "Well, tough luck, kiddo." He hung up the phone and she never heard from him. 

After giving birth to Wynonna, Naomi later she "had to marry the town jerk to have a roof and a name", so she married a man called Michael Ciminella and moved to Los Angeles. The couple then welcomed daughter Ashley in 1968. 

Naomi and Michael soon divorced, leaving Naomi to raise her two daughters on her own, working as a receptionist to pay the bills. But the salary wasn't quite enough, Naomi telling the Country Music Success Stories podcast that she was often "a paycheck away from the streets every night".

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Listen to parenting podcast This Glorious Mess. Post continues after audio.


And then at the age of 22, Naomi was assaulted sexually and physically by a "drug-addicted ex-boyfriend" after he broke into her home. After that horrific experience, Naomi decided to move to the South for a new start.

It's here where she studied and worked as a nurse, before meeting someone in the hospital she worked at whose father was in the music recording business. She sent him a cassette of herself and Wynonna singing together, and the rest is history.

As for Ashley and Wynonna, their childhood was also difficult. 

In her 2011 memoir, All That Is Bitter and Sweet, Ashley said she had attended 13 schools before turning 18, and that she had been abused at the hands of numerous men, including an unnamed family member. The #metoo and #timesup advocate was also one of the first women in October 2017 to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

The whole family has since been vocal about their struggles, and Naomi was an avid mental health advocate. 

Ashley, Naomi and Wynonna in 1992. Image: Getty. 

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And then sadly last week, Naomi passed away. She was scheduled to celebrate her and Wynonna's induction into Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame the day after her death, with Wynonna and Ashley accepting the award on her behalf. 

"Today we experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness," the sisters said in a statement. "We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public."

As journalist Hunter Kelly wrote for Rolling Stone, he could see Naomi was still affected by what she had endured in her early years. Hunter had interviewed Naomi in the days before her death.

"In spite of all that activity and excitement, Naomi's sadness crept into our conversation," Kelly wrote. "The trauma of her childhood still lingered, and she told me she was trying to get past it. She'd been so candid with her struggles with depression and offering hope to others in telling her story, I figured that was all handled, though..."

A week later, Mother's Day arrived. And for the family, it is their first Mother's Day without Naomi. 

In an open essay penned for USA Today, Ashley wrote: "This Sunday is abruptly, shockingly, my first Mother's Day without my mama. She died just days before my sister and I could show her again how much we love and honour her.

"It wasn't supposed to be this way. 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."

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She also went on to write that for her, Mother's Day will now be a time to reflect on her mum's "tenderness, music and memory".

But what Ashley also wrote - that has struck a chord with so many - is the "incandescent rage" she feels over what her mum had to endure. 

"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," she wrote. 

"My mama was an extraordinary parent under duress - She showed my sister and me the power of having a voice and using it, and there has been no greater lesson. But motherhood happened to her without her consent."

Ashley and Naomi. Image: Getty. 

She went on to write about the unfair treatment women face in this world, referencing the leaked draft of the Supreme Court's intention to overturn Roe v. Wade and the fact Naomi and so many women had such little access to support. 

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"Nearly a quarter cannot make their own decisions about health care," she noted.

"So often, motherhood happens because of violence, neglect, because schools and health systems fail to provide reproductive health information because they fail to teach the right of individuals to make their own choices about sex and contraception. Motherhood should always be a choice."

As Naomi herself said prior to her death, "I've been through an alphabet of tragedies and trials. I wasn't sure I was going to make it at all. But I just kept going like the little engine that could, I said to myself 'I think I can, I think I can, I think I can'."

What Ashley hopes people realise from her mother's story is that trauma isn't linear - nor does it completely go away. And that we need to do more to protect and support all women.

"Forgive me if my grief isn't tidy," Ashley wrote. "When I think about my mother, I am awash in the painful specifics. I choose to honour my mama for the person she was - a mother and so much more. And I ask you to honour your own mother, if you are lucky enough to have her

"Honour her for more than her labour and sacrifice. Honour her for her talents and dreams. Honour her by demanding a world where motherhood, everywhere, is safe, healthy - and chosen."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au. 

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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