When I was fourteen my friend Lee attempted to take her own life. In the middle of the night, she came to my bedroom window with slashed wrists. My Mom and I drove her to the hospital and she survived. This was the first of many attempts over the next several decades when, in her early forties, she succeeded. This, despite the love and support of her tremendous family. The following story is about Nan Cavanaugh, who was a friend of our daughter and friend of our family. Only 24 years old when she took her own life, Nan was a beautiful young woman–beautiful in her gifts of intelligence, compassion, and sweet spiritedness. I never spoke with Liv about my friend Lee until after Nan’s death. A discussion with your child about a friend in distress, especially when that friend is suicidal, is a conversation to have sooner, rather than later.
From WBUR: ‘She Was Able To Put On A Happy Face': Big Personality Masked Pain That Led To Suicide
BEVERLY, Mass. — From an early age, Nancy (“Nan”) Cavanaugh, of Beverly, stood out.
“Nan was a spitfire. She was just a little towhead who made everybody laugh,” says Nan’s mother, Ellen Dalton.
Dalton filled albums with pictures of her middle daughter dressed up in costumes and goofing around.
“She loved to perform. She had this big booming voice. And she would get on the table and sing ‘Oh Shenandoah’ and get us all kind of going,” Dalton recalls. “She was a great friend. She had such passion.”
In high school, she was the loudest at pep rallies and won spirit awards, her family says.
But maybe that was a way for her to mask her pain. From the time she was young, Nan showed signs of obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. Her mother says doctors minimized her ritualistic behaviors and anxieties when she was young, and she only started getting counseling in high school.
“But she was never really willing. She would do it because we kind of insisted for a while,” her mother says. “She was on medication, and I think that helped smooth things out a little bit. But she had said on a few occasions, ‘I’m always going to have to be taking this. And I can’t. I don’t want to do this.’ ”
Cavanaugh would stop taking her meds, but then her mood would change drastically and that would scare her, her family says.