Letter To Ashley Judd: You Had a Good Mother

Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
4 min readAug 31, 2022

TW: mentions gun violence and suicide)

Dear Ashley,

I hope you don’t mind the informality, but since I’ve followed your family for over thirty years, I think I can address you as a friend would. First off, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about your mother’s death. I’m sorry you weren’t allowed to even mourn her in private. You stated in your essay in the New York Times that, while your mother was dying or, in Appalachian terms, “going home,” you had to answer endless questions from the police department about what happened.

As stated in an interview with Diane Sawyer, you went outside to talk to a family friend. When you came back to check on your mother, the deed was done. I don’t know if you heard a gunshot. I don’t want to know. What I do know is you called 911. The police came. They asked you endless questions. You have given them incredible grace in your essay, saying this: “I want to be clear that the police were simply following terrible, outdated interview procedures and methods of interacting with family members who are in shock or trauma and that the individuals in my mother’s bedroom that harrowing day were not bad or wrong.” However, you were left feeling you were an alleged perpetrator in your mother’s death.

I made a big mistake. I read the comments section of your essay. For the most part, they’ve been kind. But some comments asked why this essay write in the first place. Maybe your mother was terminally ill. One commenter doubted that your mother talked with others about the brain and neurodiversity. Or maybe you were hiding something? (that comment was deleted) One lovely soul wrote this: “I am also slightly perturbed that highly privileged people, such as Hollywood celebrities, often get a free national platform in papers like the NYT to advocate for policies that particularly benefit themselves as opposed to the less privileged public at large.” And then this person: “So sorry… you sign up for this public scrutiny when you strive to be a mega-star.”

Technically the commenters were right. But they are also wrong. When I think of the Judd family, I don’t think of Hollywood Celebrities or Mega-Stars. I think of KSAN, which used to be the country/ western station back in the Bay Area, where Judds were played regularly. I think of drinking lemonade from a jelly jar and enjoying the fireflies on a late summer night. I think of how your mom wrote about the three of you on a tour bus in the late eighties somewhere in America, with you and Wynonna reading Ellen Gilchrist’s short stories. I think of Wynonna singing a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” because Mitchell was one of Wynonna’s influences. The appeal of your family was all three of you stayed real. And even if you were “Hollywood Celebrities” or “Mega Stars,” does that really mean you give up your right to privacy? Aren’t celebrities allowed to grieve? Last time I checked, privacy is for everyone.

As for writing for the New York Times: okay, I admit it, it’s one of my dreams to have a byline for them. You have always struck me as articulate, smart, and genuine. You have used your platform as an actress to bring awareness to sexual crimes, poverty, and sexism. It seems a natural for you to write an essay for a well known publication about privacy issues, where it can be read by millions. Then others can share their stories as well. When one person speaks out, others join in.

Even if one would think you were “overly sensitive” about your treatment with the police, you have objected to the report being released to the public. If people really want to read this report, I don’t get it. There are things about my family I have kept private in the writing I share with the world. I tend to be a pretty open person/writer. But I also believe a person must have a private life that stays private for their own well being. As for my family, I remember something David Sedaris once said: “They didn’t sign on to this (public life) I did.” Are our necks really made of rubber? Do we have to know every detail about a person’s final moments?

While reading your essay I was reminded of a poem by Susan Browne called “The Deponent’s Testimony” The speaker had been asked to give testimony about her mother who died in a car accident due to a faulty tire. The speaker’s family was using for wrongful death. The lawyers for the other side asked the speaker: “Did your mother smoke? They wanted to discover how much your life was worth. Did she drink alcohol? How many cigarettes a day did your mother smoke? Would you consider her an alcoholic? Would you consider her a good mother?” The speaker finally said to them: “I asked them to stop. You were a good mother. I stood in the hallway and wept.”

Ashley, you had a good mother.

You have asked them to stop.

You have given testimony.

We should let you stand in the hallway and weep and not watch you do so.