On Sunday evening, Jim and Deana Cavan’s beautiful, innocent, perfect baby son Everett succumbed to a cancer that spread aggressively over the past four months from a rhabdoid tumor in his liver to his lungs and, finally, his abdomen. Rett spent nearly half of his brief but inspiring life in and out of hospital beds, fighting his illness with courage and resilience, his bright blue eyes and irrepressible smile suggesting some inner tranquility that seems impossible for one to whom life dealt such an impossibly unfair hand. His was a grace that even the cruelest fate could not subdue, a grace inherited through the nature and nurture of parents who swaddled him in love and hope and determination to death and beyond. His father, with typical eloquence and unfathomable strength, posted this on Facebook:
With one last, perfect and peaceful breath, our baby boy finally set his spirit free at sunset last night. He departed as he arrived: on a Sunday, as stubborn as they come, but with an ultimate calm that spoke to the abiding grace and wisdom within him.
Buoyed by kisses of loved ones and blessings from countless people the world over, Everett’s soul is now one with the boundless beyond. And while the pain of heart and mind will never fully subside, Deana and I can breathe a little easier knowing his memory—afflicted by that evil disease though so many moments were—will be one forever defined by our little owl’s eyes and smiles. For every lesson he taught us during his too-short life on earth, there will be millions more for us all to glean as the days and years roll on, and his lasting legacy reveals itself in full.
To that end, we’re asking that, in lieu of flowers and gifts, donations be made instead to Rett’s medical relief fund, which Deana and I will soon parlay into a fund for Rhabdoid tumor research and helping families dealing with pediatric cancer. The lives our little man touched in life—manifold though they were—speak to a legacy whose reach will only deepen. Just as it will help heal the wounds wrought by this loss, so too will time define the everlasting impact of a life deferred. Deferred in flesh and blood, perhaps, but never, ever defeated.
In the meantime, we will look forward to seeing many of you at Rett’s memorial service, to be held within the coming few weeks. Mournful though it may be, let us see to it this occasion marks in equal part the full faith and credit of community, and the unconditional love Rett’s fight and spirit have sowed.
We love you to the most distant moon and back, son.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.
— Dylan Thomas
We tell you this because Jim’s words, and Thomas’s, are true; because death is not an end but rather the passing of a torch, because lives remain to be saved and good, brilliant people need to be empowered to save them. We tell you this, too, because we’ve all found each other here on this little corner of the Internet, and because the only thing to do in the face of a world that bares the teeth of its worst evil even to people like Jim and Deana, which is to say, the kindest, gentlest, and best of us, is to band together, to refuse to concede to even the darkest injustice, to love as hard as we fight and to fight as hard as we love.
Jim’s depth of character is staggering. The good-natured goofiness that comes through in his writing is real, but it is no bigger a part of him than his biting intellect or his poetic idealism. Any ostensible incongruity between these traits can be summarily dismissed after sitting or speaking with the man for just a moment, which is all the time it takes for his fundamental and genuine goodness to shine through. We have so often sought entertainment and insight through a lens of apparent cynicism on this site, but Jim Cavan has never been a cynic. He’s a bighearted idealist who has waited patiently for the world to realize the potential he knows it has for beauty, giving it a push in the right direction whenever and wherever he’s had the opportunity.
We’ve all spent the bulk of the day—and during the many days and months since we learned of Rett’s illness—going over the thousands of conversations we’ve had and time we’ve spent with Jim. You build a friendship over moments, and then, without noticing or even truly understanding why, at some point you feel like you’ve known someone since forever, even if there’s no one instance in any of those thousand-odd scraps of dialogue that might indicate some kind of definitive turning point. It’s something ineffable and indefinable, save for the fact that you’ve arrived at a place where know you can say anything, even something stupid or angry, a dumb rant about meaningless Knicks-ian drivel, or to unpack some bit of ugliness that you’d only reveal to those nearest and dearest to your soul. You know in your heart of hearts that the person on the other end of the line/internet connection/sitting across from you in some crappy Boston bar will always respond with empathy or a joke or will cut through the bullshit to tell you what you need to hear, even if it isn’t pretty.
That’s Jim Cavan; a true friend in the most profound sense of the word and an even better father.
It’s unimaginable, the horror of what Jim and his family are dealing with. And we’re all struggling to find the words that might provide a scintilla of comfort, just because he’d do the same for any of us. Such language doesn’t exist, of course. There are no words that can avoid the agony or reversing the awful unfairness of it all. But it is also true that Rett, in his brief time in this world, touched the hearts and lives of so many.
If knowledge and community can one day be the undoing—as they surely must—of brutality and despair, we must first cast our lot on the side of our better angels. That can mean a donation or it can mean support for a grieving parent; it can mean a kind word when a harsh one was available or the constructive spread of knowledge when the dismissal of ignorance would have been easier.
Rett and his parents have been and remain heroic. Let their heroism have ripples. Let their friends be deepened in their resolve. And let this tragedy have no dominion.
— Kevin McElroy, Robert Silverman and Mike Kurylo.