Judd was 76 when she died by suicide on April 30, 2022, just one day prior to The Judds‘ induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and shortly before Naomi was to embark on The Judds Final Tour with her daughter and duo partner Wynonna Judd.
In a new interview with People, Strickland described her final months as “a very chaotic, hectic, hectic time.”
“It was extremely hard,” he revealed. “She had several therapists that she was seeing, and her energy level had gotten really low. She was getting really weak.”
He added, “Nobody can understand it unless you’ve been there. Think of your very worst day of your whole life — someone passed away, you lost your job, you found out you were being betrayed, that your child had a rare disease — you can take all of those at once and put them together and that’s what depression feels like.”
Strickland and Judd married 33 years ago, on May 6, 1989, and he says especially over the past 13-plus years, he rarely left her side, to ensure she was taken care of.
“I never left the house without Naomi knowing where I was going and when I would be back,” he said. “As far as taking care of myself, I’m not sure that fits my situation. When you have a mate that has a mental illness, you walk that path with them.”
Even so, Strickland said he was unaware of just how much his wife was struggling in the months leading up to her passing, and pondered if there were things he could have handled differently.
“I just feel like I might have overdone it,” Strickland remarked. “I was trying to get her to eat. I was trying to get her to exercise. I handled her medications and had to make sure she had what she needed. I was trying every way I could.
“If I had known where she was, I would’ve been much softer on her,” he added. “I would’ve been gentler and more understanding instead of tired and exhausted because it was wearing me out, too…I look back and just wish I had been holding her and comforting her instead of pushing her. I don’t know if that would’ve helped, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.”
Following his wife’s death, Strickland has begun speaking out to raise awareness about caring for mental health, including his recent contribution to the Academy of Country Music’s Lifting Lives series The Check-In. In the episode, he spoke about how he manages stress, offered advice for those struggling with mental health, and what he is grateful for.
“I was consumed by what happened, and I want to do anything I can to help relieve any kind of hurting or suffering for others,” he explained. “I’m willing to do whatever I can to hopefully help anyone not go through what our family has.”
The original short-form digital series ACM Lifting Lives Presents The Check-in launched in May and over the past seven months, has featured artists including Jimmie Allen, Brett Eldredge and John Osborne.
Watch Strickland’s episode of The Check-in below: