(KWTX) Nearly two months after the death of their 10-year-old daughter, a Central Texas couple is still trying to make sense of the tragedy and admit the terrible ordeal has shaken their faith.
John Crawsen and Laci Avant say they’re now trying to imagine a future without the girl they called their “little red-headed angel.” (Photo by Bill Gowdy)
Lily Mae Avant, a 10-year-old Valley Mills Elementary School student, died after contracting a brain-eating amoeba while swimming in the Brazos River and Lake Whitney over Labor Day weekend.
"I don't know how it happened or why it happened to us, but we're trying to make the best of it," said John Crawsen, Lily's stepfather.
"It hurts every day. It's just emptiness and it doesn't let up and it doesn't get better," said Laci Avant, the girl's mother.
The girl's health quickly deteriorated after the Labor Day weekend.
She was taken first to a local hospital and then transferred to Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth.
Lily fought a hard nine-day battle, but succumbed to the deadly parasite.
"It was an honor. It was an honor to be her parents. It truly was," said Laci, remembering her "little red-headed angel."
Crawsen, a 15-year Army veteran critically wounded twice in Afghanistan, could only sit and watch as Lily fought to survive.
He was frustrated there was nothing he could do.
"I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat and couldn't do it," said Crawsen.
"We begged (God) to take us and not to take her," said Laci.
While Lily was fighting a losing battle, her tragic story spread around the world.
Tens of thousands of people joined Lilystrong, a Facebook page created by close relatives to allow others to send their prayers and share their memories of Lily.
Laci still keeps her daughter's memory alive by posting on the page.
"She loved you. She loves you so hard and that's just who she was, and for her to be able to bring all of these people around the world together, that's Lily," said Laci.
The parents said those who supported them during the ordeal reminded them to pray and not to lose faith.
That was hard to do, they said, acknowledging Lily's death left them angry with God.
"After (God) took her, really, I didn't talk to him. I was mad and I just said, 'I'm not talking to him right now,'" Laci said.
"I'm still mad at (God). Maybe it will go away. I mean, I respect when everybody else is praying, but I just don't have anything to say to (God) yet," said Crawsen.
Lily had always wanted her parents to get formally married, so after she died, on what would have been Lily’s 11th birthday, Crawsen wanted to propose to Laci in the middle of a crowd of 120 people at their house.
He was scared in the week leading up to the event, until one of his close friends discovered a sign, perhaps from God, that gave John the courage to ask Laci to marry him.
The friend, in Sweetwater, was sitting in his truck when he saw something shiny sticking up out of the dirt.
"He walked over and it was just barely sticking out of the ground and he picked it up and he turned it over and the ring had the name Lily (engraved) on it," said Crawsen.
Crawsen used the ring his friend found to propose to Laci.
She accepted his proposal and the couple is moving forward.
Laci still wonders what the future would have looked like with Lily still around.
"I'm not ever going to be a grandmother and I'm not going to get to see her be an amazing mother and she would've been a great mother," said Laci.
"I'm not going to get to see any of it. I'm not going to get to do that."