The hardest part of that horrible day was leaving the hospital. It was late at night by the time we left and the lobby was deserted, hallways darkened, elevators silent. As we stepped through the doors, the hot sticky air of a summer’s night in Carolina hit us hard in the face. The world beyond these doors was not the same as when we had entered hours before. It had started with waffles and the promise of coming home, and ended in emptiness. This world had been transformed in a matter of hours and the future seemed as dark as the night we were stepping out into.
We processed silently towards the parking deck, the longest walk of my life. Concentrating all our energy and willpower on putting one foot in front of the other, each of us feeling the weight of leaving one of our own behind. No one said a word. This was our lowest moment, our bleakest hour. As we crossed the foot bridge connecting the hospital to the parking deck, I stopped in the middle and looked back up towards the hospital. My mother’s hospital room looked out onto the street, visible from this bridge. The second to last window on the right on the fourth floor of the cancer hospital. A soft light still glowed from her window.
Any ounce of composure I had managed to muster disappeared as the tightness in my chest was released in the form of a wail. I could not continue forward. We were leaving her behind. Our light.
“I know,” my dad whispered. The three of us stood there, broken and defeated, looking up at the light and feeling like this was the end. But we had to go home, we had to let go of that light. It was not a question of being strong. We had no choice but to carry on. That was the hardest part.
It’s been four years since we stood on that bridge together and bid our light goodbye. It feels like four thousand years ago and four minutes at the same time. It’s the first number that seems too big, too far away; you can earn a diploma in four years, elect a new president, cheer on a new cycle of athletes at the Olympics. I am different and yet, the same. I feel at peace with today. I’m not worried about what the next year without her will be like. I know that I’ll be alright. But she will be farther and farther away.
As for that bridge, I’ve visited it many times in my mind, though I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of actually going there again. In dreams, on hazy mornings while sipping my coffee, looking out the train window, while swimming laps at the pool, or when I’m feeling very lost. Sometimes the ending is different. But the light is always there. It used to be a place of regret, where everything I should have said and done would come crashing down on me. But now it has become my crossroads, a physical marker between my past and my present, and the future that lies ahead. It is a place of ending and beginnings. A place where I can stand from within the deepest recesses of my mind from any place in the world and know that if I look up, I will be reminded to go forward.
There will be other bridges to cross.