When I went to the hospital yesterday, the nurse asked me a really simple question:

“What is your relation to Sharon?”

I stumbled to find an answer because I had never, in 26 years, had to define my relationship to her.

I knew what her relationship to me was. It was playing with her and her husband Isaac at their house. It was getting confused for her son when I was out with her and my mom. It was having a home, a family, when mine wasn’t there.

I finally answered the nurse and stuttered “I’m her step-brother.”

The nurse offered to answer any questions I had about the situation. I already knew that two days before, Sharon’s fifteen-year-old son Bryce found her on the bathroom floor. A stroke. She had surgery the same day but her brain swelled. No amount of skull cracking had been able to relieve the pressure.

I had a few questions for the nurse, but she couldn’t really answer what I wanted to know: what was I supposed to say now?

I broke down and cried. I stared at the pale white hospital walls. I contemplated the purpose of each IV. I watched her vitals on the monitor. I sat there frozen with the fear of saying something meaningless. This was a one way conversation without any way to read my audience.

Bryce walked in with a couple family members. He stood in the doorway and I saw how much he had matured since I had last seen him. They were gracious enough to give me a few more minutes to get my act together and talk to her.

I told Sharon that, regardless of whether or not she could hear me, everything I said felt selfish. I could encourage her to keep fighting, but that was just an attempt to keep my hope alive. I recounted the past because I knew there wasn’t a future. I thanked her for how much love she showed me.

Her blood pressure started to drop. Just as quickly as she had the stroke, my time was cut off from finishing the words I cried out. The nurse told me to get Isaac: it was imminent.

I spent the afternoon with Bryce, Isaac, and the rest of the family. Some family I hadn’t seen in years, some I met just that day. We told stories from the past but our future is together—united, perhaps more now, because of our loss.

I spend almost every Sunday at my mom’s because I know her sickness will eventually catch up with her. Spending time with her has been my insurance against the regret most people have about lost loved ones. I now realize how simplistic that thought is.

Life is ruthless with whom it decides to take out of this world. Its timing is even worse.