Ashley Judd: The right to keep private pain private

I felt cornered and powerless as law enforcement officers began questioning me while the last of my mother’s life was fading.

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September 1, 2022 - 12:38 PM

Photo by ERIK WITSOE/UNSPLASH

April 30, 2022, was the most shattering day of my life. My beloved mother, Naomi Judd, who had come to believe that her mental illness would only get worse, never better, took her own life that day. The trauma of discovering and then holding her laboring body haunts my nights. 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.

Naomi lost a long battle against an unrelenting foe that in the end was too powerful to be defeated. I could not help her. I can, however, do something about how she is remembered. And now that I know from bitter experience the pain inflicted on families that have had a loved one die by suicide, I intend to make the subsequent invasion of privacy — the deceased person’s privacy and the family’s privacy — a personal as well as a legal cause.

Family members who have lost a loved one are often re-victimized by laws that can expose their most private moments to the public. In the immediate aftermath of a life-altering tragedy, when we are in a state of acute shock, trauma, panic and distress, the authorities show up to talk to us. Because many of us are socially conditioned to cooperate with law enforcement, we are utterly unguarded in what we say. I gushed answers to the many probing questions directed at me in the four interviews the police insisted I do on the very day my mother died — questions I would never have answered on any other day and questions about which I never thought to ask my own questions, including: Is your body camera on? Am I being audio recorded again? Where and how will what I am sharing be stored, used and made available to the public?”

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