By Hannah M. Hayner (Fort Drum Public Affairs)August 8, 2008
(Editor's note: The following article is the last in a series about people overcoming adversities in their lives.)
Aug. 23, 2003, began as an ordinary day for the Cavalet Family, but it turned to tragedy.
Kevin Cavalet recently had retired from the Army and started working as a Fort Drum civilian employee. Since he was home more often with his wife, Dawn, and their two sons, they bought some all-terrain vehicles to ride together.
Cavalet and his sons Joshua, 13, and Brandon, 12, decided to go riding that day. Only Cavalet and Brandon survived that ride.
A car sped over a hill and hit Joshua, pushing him about 200 feet.
Cavalet rode with a friend behind the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He said at first, the ambulance was rushing, with lights on and siren blaring. Then suddenly, it stopped rushing, the lights went off and the siren was silenced.
"At that point I knew Josh was gone," Cavalet said. "My friend stopped following the ambulance so I wouldn't see where it was headed - it was going to the morgue. I knew in my heart of hearts, but I didn't want to admit it."
After waiting for what the Cavalets said felt like forever at the hospital, they were called into a back room and received the news.
The words of the doctor - "Well, I guess you probably know by now Josh has passed, right'" - still make the Cavalets cringe when they talk about it.
"I suppose there's no good way to say it," Dawn Cavalet said. "But since I didn't know Josh had passed away yet, to hear it so matter-of-factly was shocking."
"Brandon had been holding onto hope that his brother would be OK, because he still had a pulse right after he was hit, so hearing what the doctor said made him throw up," Kevin Cavalet said.
Dawn Cavalet wanted to see Joshua before she left the hospital. Most of his body was covered, but she could see his face.
"That was the hardest thing, to look at him, but I had to see him," she said. "I needed that closure."
During the days that followed, each Family Member dealt with the tragedy in different ways.
"There were days that I didn't want to get out of bed, but I knew I had to get up," said Dawn Cavalet. "We had to be each other's rock, and it made us stronger."
"I was the opposite - I didn't stay in bed, because I didn't sleep," said Kevin Cavalet. "But our Family just had to continue to rely on each other."
Before Joshua died, he and his brother constantly played sports together, especially baseball. After the accident, Brandon would not play sports anymore.
"I miss playing on the same baseball field as my brother," he said.
"But after a little while, I think Brandon started to think about what Josh would have wanted him to do," Kevin Cavalet said. "Brandon wanted to make him proud. He started playing sports again and told me one day, 'Now that Josh isn't here, I'm playing for two.'"
The Cavalets said from then on, Brandon went back to excelling at everything he did - in school and in sports - and he let his personality bring healing to his Family.
"When we were so unhappy, Brandon did everything he could to make us smile and laugh again," Dawn Cavalet said. "It's never a dull moment with Brandon. I spend a lot of time with him, watching him play sports, and that brings me a lot of joy."
One baseball event Brandon has been participating in every year since 2004 is the Josh Cavalet Memorial Tournament, which was started by a friend of the Family. It grows larger every year. This year, about 25 teams participated, including some from Canada and Puerto Rico.
"It's such a great honor that they do this," Dawn Cavalet said. "It's a way to always remember him."
Although Brandon does not talk a lot about what happened, he shared some of the things he remembers and misses about his brother.
"I miss the little talks we had when we were little at bedtime," Brandon said. "I miss the shadow puppets we would make on the wall when our night light was on and we couldn't sleep. ... I miss fighting over the TV remote, even though we both were going to the same cartoon channel. I miss wrestling when we were little with our WCW championships wrestling belts. I miss putting on camouflage and running around the woods playing 'Soldiers' with all of our friends. Most of all, I miss him."
The Cavalets thought of another way to remember Joshua and help the community at the same time. They started the Joshua Cavalet Memorial Baseball Scholarship.
Graduating seniors at Indian River High School, where Joshua would have attended, may write essays for the program. The Cavalets read them and award college money and a trophy to a well-rounded student who earns good grades, participates in sports and has good morals. They announce the recipient at an awards ceremony.
This year's recipient, Erica Auffrey, had been friends with Joshua, which made it even more of an honor for her to receive the scholarship.
"For me to receive the Josh Cavalet award was an absolute honor," she said. "I had instant tears. It was a shock to believe the Cavalets chose me to represent such a special award. It's an amazing blessing, and I am proud to look at that trophy every day in my room.
"My main goal after receiving this award was to cherish this forever," she added. "The memory of Josh will always be with me. The Cavalets are a blessing to have in my life, so I definitely would never want to lose contact with them. Throughout my softball career in high school, I wore the number 9 in remembrance of Josh. He will never be forgotten."
"We've created this scholarship to see something good come out of something bad," Kevin Cavalet said. "Josh was a really great boy. He was bullheaded and good-hearted and would do anything for anyone. He didn't deserve what happened to him, but with the scholarship, his memory will live on."
The Cavalets said they have tried to not only let what happened make them stronger, but also help them to be aware of others who are suffering.
"We just hope we may be able to help someone else in our situation," Kevin Cavalet said. "Just maybe, we can help someone else through what may be a tough time in their lives."