It rained the day he buried Lily. He could almost hear her jumping into the puddles, splashing him and Kate with the dirty water, grinning like only a ten year old can. It was like he could hear her yell, "Come on! Dance!" He and
Kate would laugh and politely decline as they watched her spin, twirl, and splash.
But she hasn't splashed like that in nearly a year.
Illness came quickly to her, deftly it moved into her little body and stole away the smiles, giggles, and "I love you's" that made Lily who she was. Even when she stopped chasing Uncle Sam and Aunt Molly's dogs, when she stopped playing with her cousin, when she stopped waking him and Kate up early exclaiming "Mum and Dad, it's a brilliant day with no time for sleep!" he didn't think too much of it. Kids catch colds.
It was when, feverish and ill, she had said she didn't care much anymore about going to school that they knew something was very wrong with their little girl; the little girl who begged every night to go sleep in their bed.
That day they took her to hospital and found out why sweet little Lily wasn't being Lily.
"We're sorry, Mr. Wood, but there are no cures for cancer."
His stomach roiled and his vision spun. Would he lose his only daughter? Beautiful, kind, intelligent Lily?
"The only option is a treatment, called chemotherapy."
"Chemotherapy will make her very ill and she will lose her hair…"
Lily whose brilliant red hair sparkled in the light, whose hair was exactly like her mother's? Lily who loved to have her hair braided by Aunt Molly's talented hands?
He wanted to believe it wasn't real. But one look at Lily told him otherwise- she had been deathly pale, almost asleep on Kate's lap like a very young child.
And so the battle began.
Chemicals fought the battle, but they were confused. They attacked her body as well, making her weak, nauseous, and eventually hairless.
Oh, how she had cried that day; the day she ran her fingers through her hair, only to find clumps of auburn in her hand. "Mummy!" she had cried, holding her hand full of hair to her chest as she sobbed.
"It's all I have left! I feel sick all the time! I don't feel like me anymore, mum. Without my hair, I'm not me, I'm barely here."
Kate and Sebastian had looked at each other with glistening eyes. I'm barely here. Sebastian didn't think he'd ever heard something more awful than that.
Aunt Molly, who used to so elegantly braid her hair, came to the hospital later that day. She looked personally wounded by the red hair on the pillow and Lily's red-rimmed eyes.
"You know, Lily, I've always thought hair was overrated. I've been absolutely dying to cut off this hair for years and you know what? I think I'm going to do it now."
With that, she'd pulled a pair of hair clippers out of her bag, walked into the bathroom, and cut her hair very short. Lily had climbed out of bed with wide eyes and timidly said, "Do mine?"
And then it was nearly gone, but instead of cries we heard giggles. He thanked the world for his brilliant best friend.
Three days later, she had no hair at all, her bald head shining under the hospital's fluorescent lighting. She hadn't been overwhelmingly sad – she definitely was more than barely here. Molly had helped immensely. She was started to accept that she was now Lily with Leukemia rather than just Lily.
Soon she was dancing again, down the colorful halls of the children's ward. She began talking to her brother's again, now having stories of her own to tell, rather than just hearing about their adventures. Yesterday they stuck a needle in my spine, I didn't feel it though. I bet you didn't do something so brave. Finally one day Kate and Sebasian awoke to "Mum and Dad, it's a brilliant day with no time for sleep!"
The chemicals were working. She was back.
After a month of treatment, she was in remission. Cancer-free. She came home, only returning for a week each month for chemo, which soon turned into only outpatient chemotherapy. Worry still lingered, but it seemed like things were back to normal, or as normal as they could be with a child with cancer.
Christmas came and she ran to meet her brothers, at home for the first time in so long.. They had looked close to tears because she looked so good – they had visited right after her diagnosis, when she had been hanging onto life by a thread. Now there was a bit of fuzz on top of her head, she was grinning and laughing, and she had run to meet them.
It had been the best last Christmas he could have hoped for.
Ten months after she was declared in remission, her hair was down to her ears. It was still a fiery red, but was coming in just a bit curly. "I love it! I've always wanted curly hair! Thank you, cancer!" she had exclaimed, laughing. She seemed so alive, her eyes smiled again, she seemed like Lily. After all, only Lily would thank cancer for giving her curly hair.
Then a routine blood test sent their world crashing down.
Blasts were in her blood once again. The cancer had returned. Fear seized them all.
Lily's chest had heaved as she sobbed, "No, I don't want to lose my hair again! I love the curls!"
The joys of being young, Sebastian had thought– she was only worried about hair loss. Sebastian wished he could say the same.
Relapses were dangerous, deadly. But they were determined to fight.
Walking into the hospital for the first inpatient chemo in months, Lily was sick with dread and fright. The chemo would be much more intense this time. Sebastian had thought it had been awfully intense last time and didn't want to consider how sick she'd be in just a few straight days, if this was to be worse than last time.
How could someone so innocent be subject to such awful things?
One day she was painting in the playroom, the next she couldn't even get out of bed to use the bathroom. She was deathly ill, barely able to open her eyes. Sebastian gripped Kate's hand as they sat, watching Lily sleep.
How could they survive without their only daughter? Why had this happened to her?
Two weeks after admission, Lily's immune system was almost nonexistent. She was still too ill to leave her room. She threw up multiple times a day and slept when she wasn't violently ill. Her hair was almost gone once again.
A 39-degree fever woke her one night. An infection, pneumonia, came out of nowhere. She was quickly transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Everyone was sick with worry as they huddled in her room, watching her every breath.
And then everything was over. One minute she was breathing, the next minute she wasn't. Just like that, Sebastian lost his only daughter, his youngest child.
Cancer stole her away.
She wouldn't go to back to school, like she had so dearly wanted to. There would be no more early morning wake up calls to him and Kate. No more girlish giggles. He wouldn't walk her down the aisle or attend her graduation from school. No more dancing in the rain or hair braiding or "fairytales".
Like that, it was all over.
Sebastian's mind had spun and it felt like his world had crumbled. Nothing had ever hurt this badly. He had lost many people in his life; he'd seen many people die- young, old, innocent, and guilty. He'd seen it all but nothing had ever felt this awful.
Lily's body lay pale, awaiting transportation to the morgue. Kate was sobbing, holding Lily's hand, stroking her hair, and crying, "I love you". Her brothers stood next to the bed, faces pale with shock, small hands gripping her sheets. Sebastian didn't think he could move. He didn't want to touch and hold her dead body, he wanted her living, breathing, jumping, running and dancing.
How could she be gone?
The days following that day were a blur. Everything had been empty. He and Kate cried at night, holding each other in bed, mourning their loss. They were strong during the day for their other children and the string of visitors who came to comfort but only intensified the loneliness. They didn't know what it was like; they still tucked their children in at night.
Before her funeral, one brother had pulled him back from the group and looked at him with big, shining eyes.
"Do children really die? Lily was so little…children don't actually die, do they? She'll come back, right?"
As if his heart wasn't broken enough.
Rain fell when they buried her. The sky missed her too.
It only made Sebastian feel like he was drowning.
Her coffin was so small. Just a tiny box being lowered into a deep, dark hole. Maybe if they didn't make coffins for little kids, little kids wouldn't die. Why do little kids have to die? Lily didn't die in some battle for the good of mankind, she had just been stolen by a disease humans shouldn't have to go though.
She had to be scared; he hoped his parents were with her.
Life went on without her, even though he felt everything should stop.
"I think about her every second of everyday, Sebastian," Kate said one day, two months after that day. "She wouldn't want us living like this. Remember when we had been so upset when she said 'I'm barely here'? We are barely here right now. She would hate that."
Sebastian sighed, heart heavy. He knew Kate was right. Lily had been full of life; she would want them to appreciate every moment. Then, as if she had heard them, the soft patter of rain falling on the roof appeared. A smile found its way to his lips.
Sebastian jumped up and grabbed Kate's hand, twirling her with a great smile. "Come on!" he yelled as he pulled her outside. He could feel the emptiness fading from his chest.
Feeling the rain on their skin, cool and refreshing, they danced with abandon. Rain and tears mixed as they grinned and held each other, doing what Lily had so loved.
Sebastian and Kate learned to dance in the rain.