An Arizona grandmother and the stranger she accidentally invited to dinner in 2016 have celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together, their first without her husband who died of COVID-19.

Like many Americans, Wanda Dench, 63, and stranger-turned-friend Jamal Hinton, 21, decided not to hold a large Thanksgiving event this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reported. Instead, they had a small dinner together on Friday next to a lit candle and portrait of Dench’s husband.

“I always remember Lonnie looking at the bright side of things,” Hinton told the Times. “He would want us to celebrate his life instead of hating COVID and hating everything.”

Dench told CNN that she wasn’t looking forward to celebrating without her husband of 43 years at first, but decided it was important to do so.

“I can’t even explain how much joy I had, having good food with my favorite company. We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us,” she told the outlet.

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The pair had dinner with Hinton’s girlfriend and Dench’s daughter and grandson and plan to get tested for COVID-19 before celebrating with their own families on Thursday, CNN reported.

Hinton shared on social media in April that Dench died after suffering from COVID-19 and pneumonia and Dench confirmed his death to local media. The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner confirmed to USA TODAY that Lonnie Dench died on April 5, but could not confirm the cause of death.

“As some of you may have already found out tonight Lonnie did not make it,” Hinton wrote on Twitter. “He passed away Sunday morning but Wanda told me all the love and support he was receiving put a huge smile on his face so I thank every single one of you guys for that!”

Story continues

Their story began in 2016, when Hinton received a random text from Wanda Dench inviting him to a Thanksgiving dinner with a family that wasn’t his. The unlikely pair’s interaction went viral when Hinton, then 17, shared a screenshot of their texts on Twitter.

Dench, thinking she had texted her grandson who had recently changed his phone number, invited Hinton to Thanksgiving dinner at her home in Mesa, Arizona.

Hinton was confused and asked for a photo of the person who had texted him.

“I actually did think it was my grandma,” Hinton told The Arizona Republic in 2016.

When he saw the photo of a woman he had never met, he responded she wasn’t his grandmother but jokingly asked, “Can I still get a plate tho?”

Dench, doing “what grandmas do,” responded: “Of course.”

So Hinton went in 2016. Then in 2017, after getting another invite (this time intentionally). Then again in 2018. And yet again in 2019.

“For him to continue with the relationship, I’m just really pleasantly surprised,” Dench told the Republic in 2017. “We’re more of extended family and, best of all, friends.”

In 2019, Hinton tweeted photos from the four previous years of Thanksgivings together.

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arizona grandma who sent wrong text has 5th Thanksgiving with stranger



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