AN ARIZONA grandmother who accidentally invited a stranger to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2016 reunited with him for another meal after her husband died from the coronavirus in April.
Wanda Dench, 63, went viral after sending a text message meant for her grandson to a wrong number, accidentally inviting then-teenager Jamal Hinton.
“You not my grandma. Can I still get a plate though?” Hinton, now 21, texted back.
Hinton formed a serendipitous friendship with Dench – spending every Thanksgiving with her family since the hilarious exchange.
The holiday tradition has been documented in newspaper headlines around the world – and even received an entry in the internet culture database KnowYourMeme.
But tragedy hit earlier this year when Dench’s husband Lonnie contracted COVID-19 and died just days later.
Hinton revealed the news that the couple was fighting the coronavirus in a tweet on April 1.
"I am so sad to announce that Wanda and Lonnie both have COVID-19 and that Lonnie is currently in the hospital fighting both COVID and Pneumonia please send words of love and encouragement their way,” Hinton wrote.
Dench, in a statement after Lonnie’s death, said: "He had the truest heart of love, like no other,”.
"He did so many acts of kindness that no one ever heard about. He was my hero. And I'm a better person because of him,” she continued.
Social media tributes poured in on Thursday expressing condolences to the family.
This year, Dench and Hinton wondered if they should hold their annual Thanksgiving celebration during the pandemic, The New York Times reported.
“It’s going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him,” Dench told the outlet.
She continued: “My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we’ve done.”
Dench and Hinton decided that, instead of their usual multi-family event, they would hold a small dinner on Friday and paid tribute to Lonnie.
During the small gather, Dench gave thanks for the years she spent with her husband in a touching moment captured on video by Arizona Family.
“Thank you for all the blessings and thank you so much for having Lonnie in my life. I miss him, but I know he's in a good place. So to everybody here, I love you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Amen,” Dench said.
Dench's real grandson and daughter also gathered around the dinner table on Friday, where “Grandma Wanda” placed a photo of her late husband and lit a candle for him.
After all these years, Wanda now considers Jamal her "honorary grandson."
"I'm loving it. I love that you don't have to know someone to know their background to be nice to them," Dench said in the second year of their tradition.
Hinton sees Dench about every two months now – and the two have often gone on double dates with Lonnie and Hinton’s girlfriend Mikaela Grubbs.
“I don’t know what I would be doing for the holidays this year, last year or years before if I didn’t have Wanda in my life, so I’m just grateful,” Hinton told The Times.
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