Larry Strickland on Late Wife Naomi Judd's Final Months: 'It Was a Very Chaotic, Hectic Time'

"It was extremely hard," Strickland tells PEOPLE of the dark time in his life while appearing in the digital series, ACM Lifting Lives Presents The Check-In

Larry Strickland distinctly remembers the months leading up to Naomi Judd's death on April 30.

"It was a very chaotic, hectic, hectic time," Strickland, 76, tells PEOPLE from the home in Tennessee he once shared with his wife. "It was extremely hard. She had several therapists that she was seeing, and her energy level had gotten really low. She was getting really weak."

Shortly ahead of the Judds Final Tour, the country singer died by suicide after a long battle with anxiety and severe depression.

"Nobody can understand it unless you've been there," Judd, who was 76 when she died, once shared with PEOPLE. "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."

Naomi Judd and husband Larry Strickland pose for a portrait in 2005 in Los Angeles, California.
Naomi Judd and Larry Strickland. Harry Langdon/Getty

Although Strickland was aware his wife was struggling, he admits he wasn't privy to how bad things were.

"I just feel like I might have overdone it," the former backup singer for Elvis Presley explains. "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."

Larry Strickland Rollout
Notes from Naomi Judd. Hollis Bennett

Looking back, he wishes he had handled Judd's mental health complications a bit differently.

"If I had known where she was, I would've been much softer on her," Strickland says. "I would've been gentler and more understanding instead of tired and exhausted because it was wearing me out, too. To know now that she was contemplating [suicide], 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."

Larry Strickland Rollout
Larry Strickland. Hollis Bennett

Judd's loving husband of 33 years never left her for long, always making sure someone was with the singer and that she was well taken care of, even at the expense of his own health.

"For the past 13 years or more, I was with her 24/7," Strickland says. "I never left the house without Naomi knowing where I was going and when I would be back. 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."

Strickland has been leaning on the country queen's two daughters, Ashley, 54, and Wynonna, 58, for support since his wife's death. "We need each other so much to cling to, and the comfort of our relationship — we have to have that," he tells PEOPLE.

Larry Strickland, Ashley Judd, and Wynonna Judd
Larry Strickland, Ashley Judd and Wynonna Judd. Mickey Bernal/Getty

Another source of healing for Strickland has been talking about his own mental health journey through the Academy of Country Music's Lifting Lives digital series, The Check-In. The platform features discussions with leading country music artists about their own psychological and emotional challenges in recent years as they share how they've learned to overcome them.

"I was used to staying in the background," he says. "But after going through what our family's gone through — the tragedy, the trauma — it changes you."

Larry Strickland Rollout
Larry Strickland. Hollis Bennett

By speaking up, he hopes to help people — especially men — be more comfortable talking about mental illness. "When you lose someone to suicide, you don't get a chance to say bye. [After losing Naomi], it was pain like I've never felt before," says Strickland, who is working with the National Association of Mental Illness to raise funds and help break the stigma surrounding mental illness.

"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. I'm willing to do whatever I can to hopefully help anyone not go through what our family has."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or go to

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