The recent loss of Naomi Judd has struck me in a tender place that reaches deeper than my well-known childhood “fandom”. And since I’ve always found refuge in words, I’m going there …
The Pace of Peace.
I lost my mentor of 15 years, who was both my manager and my soul mother, only a few months ago. The loss of Susan feels like a mountain that isn’t moving. I can’t go around it or through it, just a slow and steady climb up without any indication as to how far I am from the top. I try my best to be where I’m at each day because I know there is no speeding up the journey of grief. And while I’ll follow her light like a compass, some days I wake up to an avalanche … and it’s all I can do to try to keep my feet planted where they are. There are days of no forward movement, just holding myself in place to keep from rolling back down the mountain.
The photos displayed in this post were given to me by Susan a few summers back, before she got so sick. They were uncovered while cleaning out the attic. I vividly recall how she oh so casually showed them to me and then asked if I wanted to keep them.
I held the photos in my hands in total disbelief.
Unbeknownst to me, Susan had attended The Judds Final Concert back in December of 1991 and had taken these photos herself.
Apparently she had forgotten all about them.
Most people are aware of my love for The Judds, as I’ve never been shy about their influence from childhood to the present. And even though she kept her cool, I know it secretly thrilled Susan to see my face when she handed them over to me.
I’ve kept them tucked in my desk ever since.
Three days ago I took out Susan’s photos of The Judds and spread them across my desk. They have stayed there since. The full circle of loss has me feeling both exposed and exhausted.
I helped organize a Celebration of Life for Susan down in Tennessee a week and a half ago. It was a beautiful event that illuminated a deep glow of gratitude from everyone in attendance, reaffirming that her light will never be lost. I drove the 600 miles back to Detroit with a renewed sense of peace.
Six days later, news would break that Naomi Judd – a woman who felt like a mother in music to me throughout my most formative years – had taken her own life.
The last few days have found me holding tight to whatever I can to keep from sliding back down.
All my life, starting from the first time I saw them in concert at the tender age of 2, I have felt a connection to The Judds – and not just musically. Wynonna and Naomi, with their “we put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’” demeanor and the spirited stories of turbulence and grace resonated with me from an early age. Their story represented resilience that gave me strength through the trials and triumphs within my own family. My Mama, who has always been a present and supportive force throughout my life, has also battled severe depression all of hers. Us four kids, with me being the oldest, have had our own mental health struggles over the years. For me, therapy started in the 4th grade. My siblings share a similar story. I come from a family of entertainers, and despite the fact that none of them were crazy enough to try to make a career out of it except for me – we are all well-equipped with impeccable comedic timing, learning in our youth that humor and hurt go hand in hand.
So The Judds felt like my people.
Never in my life did I imagine Wynonna and I would be connected again, but this time by the loss of a mother. The depth of pain Naomi was in can now only be understood by the plunging grief she left her family, friends, and fans to navigate up from. And while the circumstances of our loss is not the same, the hole left in our heart is huge and harrowing.
Death can’t help but be a mirror, forcing us to reflect on this beautiful mess we call Life – all we’ve survived and where we are standing in this very moment. And it’s a damn near agonizing analysis if we’ve had our head in the sand for most of it. Lucky for me, Susan spent her last few months on this Earth seeing to it that mine finally rose above the surface.
Over the last few days I’ve written over a dozen pages, trying to get out all that is swirling in my head and ripping through my chest. I don’t know that I’ll ever get it all out, but releasing even just a little of it feels like a much needed exhale.
My “self soothing” practice has also included: Lying on a yoga mat beside my husband twice a day, listening to the birds that once used to terrify me, reading books like they might all burn in a fire tomorrow if I don’t consume them today, loving on my little nieces and nephews every chance I get, losing myself in workouts and meditations on the Oculus, digging through Mama’s old photo albums and mementos like I’m an investigator solving a cold case so that I can get to know her better while I still have her, and any other thing I find that allows some sunshine in.
Once my eyes were open, I found new perspective in losing someone so transformative in my life. Perspective that is keeping me at a distance from social media, playing shows, and anything else that feels like I have to jump back into “hustle mode” in order to keep up appearances and stay relevant. I can no longer do what doesn’t hit true for me. My inner critic tells me on a daily basis that rest is for the weak, so I need to rally instead. (And Lord knows, if anyone can rally – it’s me.). But I’m slowly turning down the volume on my head and trying to lead more heart-first. It’s not fun or flashy, but it’s also not fake.
This post is uncomfortably candid and will more than likely prompt some messages from people checking in on me.
Not because I am looking for sympathy or strength … but because the conversation about mental health only gets swallowed in small doses.
I know that here, in this moment, I’m being as honest as I’ve ever been. I also know that there’s room to get even more real. My hope is that maybe by reading this, it will inspire someone somewhere to get just as honest and real too.
“The truth shall set you free”, right?
And while I’m aware that what rings true for me isn’t for everyone, every fiber of my being tells me that sharing anything other than this right now would be more performative than pure. I know I am not alone in feeling this, but I also know the fear of speaking it. People might think differently of us if we do. It’s hard to admit that pretty photos, self promotion, and #blessed isn’t our reality in this particular season and then stand strong in the response. I thought that staying away and quiet would be safer than revealing myself. But guess what? That doesn’t sit well either, because it invites all kinds of inquires when people don’t see you posting or playing anywhere. And I can’t reduce my answers to ‘small talk’ because it’s a BIG talk.
I welcome people thinking differently of me.
I am different. Adjust accordingly.
This is the most authentic and self aware I’ve ever been and I don’t know how to go backwards.
I’ve shed the version of me that can simply smile and sing and also maintain my sanity.
Therein lies the story.
May Naomi’s passing not just leave us hurting but also with a knowing that vibrates us at our core that nothing is more deserving of our time and energy than taking care our mental health. Look at your family and friends with that same understanding.
You are meant to live in peace.
My hope is for our hearts to find a less frantic and furious beat and instead, keep the pace of peace. Amen.
Nothin but love,