Joan Winchester,

63, Milford, Del., retired teacher

He is 16 now, tall and slim, with dreadlocks covering the shunt implanted in his scalp. He plays basketball, like his father. But that November, Arxavier was 8. We’d gone from an MRI to the fourth floor of Fairfax Hospital to major surgery at Children’s to remove the tumor that was growing on his brain stem. In the car one day, as we talked about the upcoming operation, Arxavier said to me from the back seat, “Remember, Grandma, everything that lives must die.”

On the day of surgery, we all sat in the waiting room: Avis (my foster son) and his wife, Tameka; her parents; Avis’s biological mom and her husband; Avis’s grandmother; my ex-husband and his wife; and me. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Myseros, said he’d never seen so many grandparents. We all sat there all day, waiting. Finally it was over, and Avis and Tameka went to the Ronald McDonald house for much-needed sleep while I sat in intensive care all night watching my grandson breathe. Then followed a month in the hospital and another month in the rehabilitation center, where Arxavier learned to walk again.

But before all that, a couple of days after the surgery, as his parents and I sat next to his bed waiting for a sign that he would be all right, he motioned for paper and pencil and, in his shaky 8-year-old handwriting, began to write. “What time is dinner for me?”

Relief. Hope. Total bliss. I will keep this piece of paper forever.

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