Dear Naomi

Dear Naomi Judd,

I heard you died yesterday, you were 76 years young, and lovely. Your family said you died from “mental illness.” No sources close to your people have officially said it was suicide, but it doesn’t take a nuclear engineer to guess what happened.

I saw the headline in the paper and it ripped me apart. Any hint at the word “suicide” always does this to me. I am haunted by that word.

Growing up, that word followed me like a swarm of locusts. It was like a heavy cloud over me. You know the character Pig Pen, from the “Peanuts” comic strip? You know how a cloud of dust is always following him around wherever he goes? That was me and the stigma of suicide.

My father died by suicide, just like you. Or, rather, he died of “mental illness,” like your family told the reporters. Which is a more accurate way of saying it, when you think about it. Nobody ever dies of suicide. It’s the mental illness that kills a person before the suicide ever does. It’s the untreated abscess in the human psyche that festers and kills a person. Not the gun.

Earlier this year, I was in Tybee Island for a book event. At our hotel, I happened to meet a guy who was in a wheelchair at the front desk. We made friends. There was something about him I liked. Something different. Something special. He came to my show that night. He sat in the back row while I told stories about my childhood to a small theater of snoring people. He laughed at my jokes. He bought a book.

His name was Lynn. Before the wheelchair, he was a touring rock-and-roll musician. He traveled with bands, played lead guitar, and had a good time. And you could tell he was a good guy.

It turned out that Lynn and I had a few things in common. During his boyhood, his father died of suicide just like mine did. And when Lynn was middle-aged, his mentally ill brother shot him in the spinal cord, then shot their mother, then took his own life. They found Lynn lying on the floor, half paralyzed.

I asked how Lynn had survived the most horrific turn of events I’d ever heard recounted by a human being. And he said something I will never forget. Something so cliché and overused I couldn’t believe he said it.

He said, “Man, all we can do is love each other through it.”

Lynn and I had a pretty good week together on Tybee Island, hanging out at the hotel, kicking around on the beach. The World Series was on TV. We sat among the tiki bars with twinkling lights and listened to some genuinely crummy live music while the Braves decimated the Dodgers. We laughed a lot. He was an instant friend.

After we both went home, we kept in touch. We talked on the phone a lot. We texted each day. He wrote to me after every mediocre column I produced and encouraged me.

Then came the week he quit calling.

I knew something was off. I kept texting, kept emailing, kept calling, kept asking if he was okay. No response.

One day, I called his phone and a strange male voice answered. It was Lynn’s brother. “Lynn passed away,” the man told me.

I felt a cold shock run through me.

“How did it happen?” I said. I was thinking it was a heart attack. Or maybe a serious infection. Perhaps an accident. But it was no accident.

His brother said that Lynn had rented a hotel room on the beach. Late one night, when Lynn got his courage up, he wheeled himself onto the sand and took his own life with a pistol.

I dropped the phone and started sobbing. Deep, guttural sobs. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think.

The shock brought a lot back for me. A lot of things I wish I could forget. Suddenly, I was a child again, standing in the sheriff’s office and a deputy was telling my mother that my old man used his big toe to pull the trigger on a hunting rifle. I was remembering how badly it hurt when people shook our hands at the funeral and how they didn’t know exactly what to say. I remembered how the world seemed so cold. I remember how alone I felt. Sometimes I remember too much.

I’ve never met your daughters, Naomi, I’ve never met anyone famous except Patty Duke one time. But I know that your daughters, lovely women who lost their beautiful mother to mental illness, now belong to a club of which I am also a member.

And I believe all we can do is love each other through it.


  1. Sarah Filliter - May 2, 2022 7:01 am

    Sean, your words, your compassion, your honesty all move me. Thank you for sharing such raw and real emotions, especially on the topic of mental illness.

  2. Kathy - May 2, 2022 7:22 am

    I wish love was enough to erase mental illness but sometimes it just isn’t. The pain overcomes the love.

  3. Sherri Hill - May 2, 2022 8:34 am

    God bless your heart and soul. May perpetual light shine on your daddy, your friend, Naomi, and all who have left this earth at the cruel hand of mental illness. ✝️💟

  4. Leigh Amiot - May 2, 2022 9:35 am

    My condolences on the loss of your friend, Lynn. I suspected you might address Naomi Judd’s passing this morning. Oddly enough, “Love Can Build a Bridge” has been playing on the gray matter jukebox this morning, over and over. My heart breaks for Wynonna, losing the harmony to her lead, and for the rest of the family. The world lost a tremendous talent. Naomi’s written words had as beautiful a melody as the songs she wrote. Her book, “Naomi’s Home Companion”, has been a part of my home library since its publication in ‘97, and it will be among the last things I part with on this leg of eternity.

    • Doris Perkins Hughey - May 3, 2022 3:04 am

      RIPNaomi, so sorry you missed your induction into the CMHF, you so deserved it!!! You will be missed by your girls and your fans will will always remember you❣️

  5. MJ Vaught - May 2, 2022 10:19 am

    It’s a club none of us asked to join, but yet here we are.

  6. Liz - May 2, 2022 10:32 am


  7. Debbie - May 2, 2022 10:33 am

    I didn’t volunteer for membership into this club, however, I too am a member. I was forced into membership, first by my mother and then it was reinforced by my sister. It is rather, a lifetime appointment that cannot be canceled. There is no turn of duty, no leave. After many years, I have finally reached the conclusion that there is no blame to be placed, my family members were victims. I believe love will conquer, that is the love of Christ.

  8. Ann - May 2, 2022 10:44 am

    Sending you love to help you through it.

  9. Lander - May 2, 2022 11:07 am

    It was my uncle – 10 years older than me. More like a big brother. Lived with us for a while in a bedroom converted from the garage, while he got away from a bad family situation and tried out going to college. He tried out a bunch of things before becoming a Highway Patrolman and making a career of it. Tough when he needed to be. Helpful when he could. Easy when he decided to give someone a break. He was good at it. Good enough that he helped train newer patrolman how to drive. He played music and sang country songs with his boys. He could tell funny stories that would have you bust out laughing. It was the pain that got him. His back hurt so much from the sudden, jerking movements of those training maneuvers that he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t rest, couldn’t find any relief. He talked about it for years. Then finally walked out into the trees near his house, sat down against a Post Oak tree and gave in to the pain that had ruled and ruined his life. That was ten years ago. Maybe loving your way through it is the best we can do.

  10. Penn Wells - May 2, 2022 11:13 am

    They say time heals all wounds. But that’s not true. It’s love.

    • Jim Ritchie - May 2, 2022 5:02 pm

      It takes time to the end it’s love that heals that wound!

  11. Bonnie - May 2, 2022 11:16 am


  12. Xavia Wilkerson - May 2, 2022 11:17 am

    I lost my brother (my only sibling) to suicide in 2013. It leaves such an emptiness.

  13. Marianne Bryan - May 2, 2022 11:29 am

    Praying God’s comfort for you and for the survivor’s of a loved one’s death by mental illness🙏🏻♥️

  14. Amy - May 2, 2022 11:53 am

    I loved her. She and Winona hooked me on country music. Sadly, I am a member of the club too. Holding the daughters close to my heart.

  15. Peg - May 2, 2022 11:56 am

    My heart breaks.

  16. Ellen read - May 2, 2022 12:03 pm

    Perfectly said. This is so far from mediocre. Hugs from an old Ohio woman.

  17. Dale Parsons - May 2, 2022 12:11 pm

    My dear wife’s younger brother took his life in 2010.

  18. Erika Putnam - May 2, 2022 12:25 pm

    Thanks for saying the hard stuff. We lost a family friend to suicide this week. My heart breaks for his family. Maybe letting others love you (us) is just as important as loving others. Thank you for your perspectives SD!

  19. Shannon - May 2, 2022 12:35 pm

    I am also a member of that club. Some days are very hard. But when I think of people who love me and how I never want them to experience this pain, I find of ways to push through. I am sad that Naomi couldn’t find a spark of hope to make it another day. Godspeed mama Judd …

  20. Linda Lewis - May 2, 2022 12:36 pm

    Suicide is devastating. My son committed suicide. It’s hard to live with. The pain is real all I can do is pray. I will pray for you, too.

  21. Shelton A. - May 2, 2022 12:39 pm

    Love to you, to Lynn’s family and to Naomi’s as well. God’s peace be with all who carry your burden.

  22. BRENDA DAVIS - May 2, 2022 12:44 pm


  23. Jan - May 2, 2022 12:46 pm

    So many sad stories … I wish I could find the words to say what I truly feel. All I can say is how very sorry I am for the pain so many feel. Love to you all and may you find a way to walk with God who loves you more than I can say.

  24. Joy Jacobs - May 2, 2022 12:48 pm

    I have never experienced what you’ve been through, thankfully. Still my heart goes out to you whenever you share about suicide. It’s got to be the hardest way to lose someone you love. ❤️

  25. Rita Munoz - May 2, 2022 12:56 pm

    I too am a member of that club, Sean. The hurt never goes away.

  26. nebraskannie - May 2, 2022 12:57 pm

    I, too, have lost loved ones to suicide. It’s contagious. Help and love are the only answers I know of and sometimes that just isn’t enough. Please keep talking, we need to hear it.

  27. Debbie Taylor - May 2, 2022 1:18 pm

    Yes, we are here on earth to love each other through it, whatever it may be.❤️❤️❤️

    • Mary C. - May 3, 2022 8:26 pm


  28. Gary - May 2, 2022 1:28 pm

    Out of all the news of a loved one passing over the many years the news of a good friend taking his own life is one that I’ve NEVER been able to understand.

  29. Stacey - May 2, 2022 1:34 pm

    I am also a member of the club, forgiveness and love is the most important.

  30. Ruth Mitchell - May 2, 2022 1:43 pm

    May God give the Judds, you, and every member of your club that peace that transcends human understanding. 🙏🏻❤️

  31. Bill - May 2, 2022 1:44 pm

    I also lost my father to mental illness, suicide. I was 28 and just starting out in my career with a new family. I still miss him and i never had the chance to talk with him about the kids, my career, buying my first home, being married and all the assorted things that one talks to their day about.

    • Timmy D - May 2, 2022 4:15 pm

      Sorry for your loss Bill…and you are correct. Memories of my dad as a kid were fine, but we truly bonded as I became a young adult and would talk to him about career, marriage, kids, politics etc. etc. He was my number one fan and tho not thru ‘mental illness’ but rather cancer I lost my mentor/friend/father 11 years ago.

  32. Kay Brown - May 2, 2022 1:50 pm

    My heart breaks for your child self and your adult self every time you talk about this tragedy. And my heart broke when I read the headlines about Naomi.

  33. Mimi - May 2, 2022 1:54 pm


  34. Joy Buff - May 2, 2022 1:56 pm

    You may have heard of the catcher on James Madison University’s softball team who committed suicide last Tuesday. A family, a team, a university grieving and searching for answers. …

  35. Braxton Usher - May 2, 2022 2:00 pm

    I had a friend I met through our model car hobby. He had a shop that I visited quite often. He remarried, sold his shop and moved north. I would call occasionally and ask to speak to him but he was always busy. Lost contact when I was told he was no longer there. Found out years later that he killed himself. I cussed him, yelled at him, and cried for him. I would have tried to help if I had known.

  36. AlaRedClayGirl - May 2, 2022 2:06 pm

    So sad…offering prayers of peace, healing and comfort to all those in need.

  37. Sandy - May 2, 2022 2:21 pm

    Sean, If the daughters of Naomi Judd read your column they will be heartened by it. Mental illness is an ugly thing and way to many families suffer through it .

  38. Melanie - May 2, 2022 2:26 pm

    I’m so sorry for the loss of the beautiful man you befriended, Sean. And to the Judd family I hope that you find the strength and loving support to get through this painful time. Mental illness continues its unrelenting destruction of lives around the world. I hope that more warriors will join the fight to address this disease and end ignorance, misinformation, and discrimination – especially by the medical community.

  39. Joann - May 2, 2022 2:41 pm

    I too belong to this “club”. For 54 years and it still hurts. I’m scared for my children that I will also put them in this “club”. I pray I will die naturally before that happens. Because I want to break the cycle.

  40. sheryl turner-watts - May 2, 2022 2:54 pm

    prayers for you and the Judd family

  41. Keith Beard - May 2, 2022 2:58 pm

    Good article Sean I too had a father whose comitted suicide 50 years ago you never get over it Keith in Louisiana

  42. Connie Williams - May 2, 2022 2:58 pm

    Love you Sean Dietrich. Very much.

  43. Donna - May 2, 2022 2:59 pm

    It’s a much bigger club than most people realize, and I’m in it as well. It’s always surprising how hard celebrity suicides hit me. I still can’t watch a Robin Williams movie, or No Reservations with Tony Bourdain. I didn’t know them, but I mourn them just the same.

    • Leesa Wimberley - May 2, 2022 4:39 pm

      Me too, Donna. Although we don’t know these celebrities each of their losses remind us of our loss and the knowledge of the pain their families are experiencing.

  44. Sherry Andrews - May 2, 2022 3:02 pm

    Beautiful and sad tribute to Naomi and Lynn. You touched my heart!

  45. Sheri Wentland - May 2, 2022 3:07 pm

    My first husband died of mental illness. And I am crying after reading this because I too, remember too much. So thankful for a loving Father and family who love me through it.

  46. lonerockandhorses - May 2, 2022 3:28 pm

    Im sorry for your losses Sean. Thank you for sharing this very hard story. I too lost my dad to suicide, then I lost my best friend to suicide, then I lost my best sister to a slow suicide of alcohol illness. Thank you for sharing your story, because I know that by sharing it with the love you have put into it you will help some of us fight off that tragic end.

  47. BEX - May 2, 2022 3:30 pm

    Mental illness…you are right. The depression is so black, the hole so deep, no hope for tomorrow……
    Mention suicide and you are a pariah but it happens! People don’t recognize the signs of suicidal loved ones until we are left wondering what did we DO or NOT DO that could have prevented this? And all we can do is ‘love each other through it.’ Be there for others and just listen, share their grief and tell them there was NOTHING they could have done to prevent the suicide of their loved one.
    God is my ROCK. Jesus is my HOPE! God bless you and Jamie!

  48. Judy - May 2, 2022 3:36 pm

    I am trying to love, you, Naomi and Lynn through the tears that won’t stop.

  49. Jan - May 2, 2022 3:38 pm

    Sad but touching article Sean… prayers to you and the Judd family.

  50. Gayle Wilson - May 2, 2022 3:52 pm

    Dear Sean, it is sad that mental illness is still so misunderstood. People do not choose that for their life. No more than they would choose any other serious medical issue. Thank you for pouring out what is in your heart onto the pages of paper to help people gain more understanding of mental illness. You are a beacon of light for so many, including Lynn at a point in his life when he needed someone.

  51. Marilyn - May 2, 2022 3:52 pm

    Look to Jesus. Therein lies the Hope of the Ages. The Great Healer is eagerly waiting with outstretched stems to encircle those who hurt and give them comfort.
    If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

  52. Dee Thompson - May 2, 2022 4:04 pm

    Beautiful column. So sorry about your friend Lynn. I am passing along a link to this to a friend who lost her son to suicide and who has never gotten over it. I lost a cousin to suicide. I didn’t know him well but the pain will always be raw, unhealed, because it’s so sad when someone just cannot see any way out except suicide. I know if I didn’t believe in an afterlife the pain would be nearly unbearable. I believe death is simply a doorway, though. I get messages from my parents all the time. The other day I opened a box and pulled out an unopened box of kleenex that smelled like my mom’s perfume and it made me cry a little bit but in a good way. It brought her back to me, just a tiny bit. / Keep fighting the good fight my friend.

  53. Melissa Armstrong - May 2, 2022 4:05 pm

    I love you, Sean. Thanks for addressing suicide, death by mental sickness. You may never know who your story helped.

  54. Susan Marler - May 2, 2022 4:26 pm

    I lost my best friend the same way last August. I still dream of her, her beautiful soul who was always helping others, but she never recovered from losing both her sons, one to heart disease and one to cancer. She sought counseling years ago and everything she did, she did in their memory. What we could not see was how broken she was again. I had just talked to her days before, thinking everything was ok. It wasn’t. Mental illness is agonizing for the person and for those who love them. I am forever changed.

  55. Leesa Wimberley - May 2, 2022 4:34 pm

    I too am a member of this club. It saddens and angers me the off-hand remarks folks make about suicide. That God will heal if we just believe. That love can heal. That may be true in some circumstances but it isn’t always true. My brother was a believing, practicing Christian with a strong belief. He had sought mental health care, was seeing a mental health counselor and taking his prescribed medication. However, he remained in a deep dark hole (as Naomi Judd mentioned in an interview) which unfortunately won the battle for his peace of mind. None of us who remain have ever been the same. Love to each of you in this fellowship of hurt souls. May each of you be comforted by memories of shared time with our loved one.

  56. Mary Mullins - May 2, 2022 4:56 pm

    I’ve lost three family members & known others to “mental illness”. First one when I was eight years old. At 83 I still remember that Sunday night. The other two as a young woman. Those events surface every time I hear of another sick soul. Remember those folks on their good days, not their final hours. Bless you Sean..

  57. suzi - May 2, 2022 6:04 pm

    My young, exuberant minister, closes each Sunday service with his arms raised and in a thundering voice says,


    May we all remember that each day, each minute when the world seems too much.

  58. Sue Cronkite - May 2, 2022 6:10 pm

    All we can do is love each other through it.💔

  59. Bonnie - May 2, 2022 6:25 pm

    One thing I want to say that is so helpful, is not to make those left behind in the wake of a suicide, to feel that somehow they now come from a family of misfits or crazy people. I know from experience, one thing that does help, is to listen. Just hold the person (if they will allow) and let them talk. I was made to feel ashamed when my brother shot himself. Not healing or loving at all. I’ve spoken to others who have been made to feel the same way.

  60. Jenny Young - May 2, 2022 7:24 pm

    “All we can do is just love each other through it.”
    Sean I hope you know that most of us who follow you are trying to do just that for you & Jamie….& those we love so much who suffer….& even ourselves on our worst days. Thanks so much for all you do to spread the love.

  61. Sonya Tuttle - May 2, 2022 7:30 pm


  62. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 2, 2022 7:53 pm

  63. Anne Trawick - May 2, 2022 9:28 pm

    I read your hurt,the hurt that goes into remission for a bit but is never cured. I am loving you through it.

  64. Jane Frizzell - May 2, 2022 10:53 pm

    Beautifully written❤️

  65. Chad - May 2, 2022 11:13 pm

    Everybody is going through something. Everybody !!! Some problems are worse than others. Treating each other with the love of God helps everyone through their problems. We are here only a short time. Love is the key.

  66. Linda Moon - May 3, 2022 12:26 am

    Today and Yesterday I spent some time with members of that club that none of us ever wanted to belong to. But we do. So now all I can do is love on you and on Naomi’s family, too.

  67. Slimpicker - May 3, 2022 3:19 am

    Sean, this heart felt letter reminds me of the song, “Why” by Rascal Flatts. Than you for sharing.

  68. Heidi Thompson - May 3, 2022 4:37 am

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

  69. Christine swain - May 3, 2022 5:48 am

    So heartbreaking for you and all who have experienced this. I’ve had deaths of a dad and two younger brothers, mental illness and addiction in my family. Life is hard. One step at a time and holding on to the One who heals all in time and being there for family keeps me going. Thanks for this difficult share.

  70. Suzanne Reynolds - May 3, 2022 6:50 am

    I’m so sorry that your deep wound was scratched again. I’m sure the pain is always right at the surface. I love you and your writing. I wish I could take your pain away but it’s yours for life. We all will love you as hard as we can and don’t you ever forget that GOD LOVES YOU.

  71. Debbie g - May 3, 2022 8:56 am

    Love to all

  72. Linda - May 3, 2022 4:55 pm

    Lovely , true and so poignant
    Thank you Sean

  73. Mary Connelly - May 3, 2022 8:24 pm

    Powerful piece. Yes, all we can do is love each other through it.

  74. Ellie galko - May 4, 2022 5:30 am

    Loved this❣️

  75. Kim - May 4, 2022 4:49 pm

    Love ❤️ this! Such a simple but honest statement! Love people through it. 🥰

  76. Susan W Fitch - May 4, 2022 8:10 pm

    My heart hurts reading this today. Thank you for sharing your pain, praying for you!

  77. Melissa Norman - May 6, 2022 5:39 pm

    Thank you for writing this column. It says how we all feel every time we hear about a suicide. “Not again!!!”

  78. Robin McDonald - May 19, 2022 2:43 pm

    Tragic for all involved. My heart hurts. 🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻❤️


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