Nine-year-old Bailey Cooper had just relapsed from cancer for the second time in 2017 when he learned that his mother, Rachel Cooper, was pregnant. Despite his dire prognosis, Bailey could only think of one thing: his future baby sister.
“All he was concerned about was meeting his little sister. Bailey knew something wasn’t right. He could feel it in himself,” Bailey’s dad, Lee Cooper, 31, tells PEOPLE. “We got told the news late August that he wasn’t going to survive. We were told it was days to weeks. We were very open with him. He was taking it in … He was thinking, ‘Oh no, I won’t meet my sister.’ “
Just months earlier, Rachel and Lee, of Bristol, U.K., revealed to their sons, Bailey and Riley, now 7, that she was pregnant and later learned that they’d have a little sister, Millie. The news proved to be a pick-me-up for the ailing boy, who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2016.
“When we told him, it completely lifted him. He was completely over the moon,” Lee says, adding that Bailey was an extra special part of his mother’s pregnancy.
“He was amazing. He was adamant on being around Rachel,” Lee tells PEOPLE of Bailey. “He’d always be cuddling her, trying to listen to the baby in her tummy. He’d sing to her. He was just anticipating meeting her. He’d read stories while resting his head on her tummy. He’d sing just so the baby would be familiar with his voice.”
Bailey told his family that he’d try his hardest to live to see Millie’s birth. And he did. Millie was born on Nov. 30, 2017.
“He just managed to hang on, basically. How he did it, we don’t know,” Lee says of his son, adding that he was “smitten” by little Millie. “He’d come into the hospital, he sat down. He was getting quite frail, but he’d come straight in as quick as he could, shuffling his feet. We had to pass Millie to him. He just sat in the chair with Millie in his arms and he wouldn’t let her go.”
Photos of the sweet moments showed Bailey sitting next to his little brother Riley, with Millie in his arms. Bailey spent the final month of his life as close to the little girl as possible.
“It was amazing, but it was hard to see as well. He was completely smitten by her,” Lee says. “The short time he was with her, he would hold her every day. He’d be by her side. He fed her. He bathed her. He changed her. He sang to her every day until he physically couldn’t do it anymore.”
Bailey died on Christmas Eve of 2017.
“It’s been really hard without Bailey. It’s been wonderful having Millie around. She’s been helping us deal with what’s happened. It was so hard for [Rachel], her daily routine had completely changed without him,” Lee says.
“[I miss his] presence, his cheeky banter, his jokes, the laugh, his company. It’s such a difficult time, but at the same time, you look back and we were lucky to have nine-and-a-half great years with him.”
Even though Bailey is gone, Lee says he and Rachel will do all they can to make sure Millie knows about her big brother.
“We tell her about Bailey every day. We show her pictures of him. We’ve got pictures around the house of Bailey. Every time we mention Bailey’s name she points up at a picture,” he says.
“She knows who he is already. Her face lights up every time she sees a picture of Bailey on our phones. We show her videos. There’s no way she’s ever not going to know who he is. We talk about him every day.”