“Are you warm enough?” I asked Lilly as the gravel crunched under our feet. Her soft, panting breath hung in the air like a fog. It was colder than we were used to in southern California.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. I didn’t have a coat to give her to stop her shivering, so I made sure she wore lots of layers, including my old flannel shirt. It still didn’t stop her shivering.
“Do you want me to carry you?”
She glanced at me, but that pout she was so good at wasn’t there. “I’m eight,” was all she said.
I kept walking, but her footsteps stopped. “Lilly? What’s wrong?”
She was holding her midsection, her head down. Although bangs covered her face, I knew she was crying.
“I don’t… want to go in there.”
My blood froze solid where I stood. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. “I know it’s hard,” I eventually said. “We can make an appointment for next week.”
“I DON’T WANT TO GO IN THERE!” she screamed with a strength I haven’t seen from her in years. The last time she made a noise like that the doctors were pushing a needle into her spine for testing. Then, as now, I turned white.
“Dear, it’s okay. I won’t make you,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I knelt down before her. She was nearly as pale as I was. “But we need to stay strong. When we go back to the hospital, I’ll ask if there’s any new procedures or something less-“
“No daddy.” She leaned into me, sobbing, arms around my neck. “I’m done.” I don’t know how long I just held her as she trembled against me. When her sobbing finally settled down, I wiped away her tears.
“You know what this means?” I whispered. Any more than a whisper and she would be able to hear my heart breaking.
She nodded to me. I picked her up and carried her back to the car. She was lighter than I remembered, but the burden I bore had never been greater.
That was the last time I saw Lilly cry. To this day I don’t know if those tears were the last remnants of hope flowing out of her or if she had simply come to peace with her fate. I left that flannel shirt folded up on her grave in case she needed it and because it only reminded me of the day I saw my daughter lose the fight.