A bittersweet Thanksgiving for the friends who met via an accidental text five years ago

Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving on Friday in Mesa, Arizona, however there was an empty seat at the dinner desk. After 43 years of marriage, Dench’s husband, Lonnie Dench, handed away in April from issues brought on by Covid-19.

“I wasn’t looking forward to it at first because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there. The past seven months have been so difficult, but this was really important to me,” Dench, 63, advised CNN.

“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.”

The two shared a Thanksgiving dinner with Hinton’s girlfriend and Dench’s daughter and grandson. The small group determined to have a good time Thanksgiving on Friday so they may get examined for coronavirus earlier than celebrating with their very own households so they do not danger spreading the virus.

From left, Wanda Dench, her husband Lonnie Dench, Jamal Hinton and his girlfriend Mikaela Autumn.

“At first it was sad. We had a photo of Lonnie at the table with a candle lit, and we were all shaky in the beginning but it lasted five minutes before we were back to ourselves,” Hinton, 21, advised CNN. “We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing.”

From strangers to friends to household

Dench and Hinton are a pair of unlikely friends. All it took to bring them together was a few texts to the incorrect quantity.

Dench, a grandmother of six, meant to text her grandson to ask him to her 2016 Thanksgiving dinner, however by accident texted then 17-year-old Hinton whereas he was in school.

He was confused that somebody claiming to be his grandma had texted him. She despatched a smiling selfie of herself at work. She wasn’t his grandma, however he requested if he might nonetheless have a plate.

“Of course you can,” she replied. “That’s what grandmas do … feed everyone!”

Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together.

So he confirmed up at her dwelling to share the meal, and the two instantly turned friends. Eventually, he and his girlfriend started occurring common double dates with Dench and Lonnie.

“It all has to do with this feeling. There’s just this connection. It feels like we’ve known each other in past lives,” Dench mentioned. “There’s absolutely no generational gap between us. The conversation just flows, we never run out of things to talk about.”

When Hinton first confirmed up on Dench’s doorsteps, he was frightened there could be awkward silences or moments the place he would not know what to say. What he did not count on was how she would in a short time develop into one in all his closest friends.

“Whenever we met, we would spend four or five hours, just talking and talking. It was never awkward, Wanda and Lonnie became two close best friends to me,” Hinton mentioned.

“There’s nothing about her that is mean, or uncaring. It feels like I have told her my whole life story, and she always listens and shares her own story. She’s just the most loving person. She’s pretty much perfect.”

Remembering Lonnie

For Dench and Hinton, spending Thanksgiving collectively is a cherished custom they each hope by no means has to cease. But with out Lonnie, issues really feel a bit of bit totally different.

“Lonnie was missing this year, and he was a big part of the Thanksgiving story and a big part of our lives, but that’s one thing Wanda and I know for sure. Lonnie would have been very angry if we didn’t have Thanksgiving together,” Hinton mentioned.

Lonnie handed away on April 5 after battling coronavirus and affected by double pneumonia brought on by the virus, in keeping with Dench.

“I didn’t believe I would have to go home without him,” she mentioned. “Even when he was in the hospital, I thought he would get better and come back to me. He was my soul mate. He was my biggest cheerleader.”

A photo of Lonnie and a candle stood in front his empty chair during their Thanksgiving dinner this year.

What everybody remembers most about Lonnie, she added, was his kindness. He was recognized for providing random donations to hospice facilities, paying for folks’s meals with out them understanding, and serving to anybody he sees in want.

Hinton’s recollections of him are not any totally different.

“Lonnie was never the quiet guy. Right when I walked in the door the first time I met him, he didn’t even reach out for a handshake. He just immediately pulled me in for a hug,” Hinton mentioned. “He was the kind of guy to always bring your hopes up whenever you felt down. Losing him was losing a best friend.”

Hinton and Dench are nonetheless therapeutic from their loss, and say Lonnie’s reminiscence will dwell with them ceaselessly. For now, they simply hope his story will encourage folks to be extra cautious throughout the pandemic.

“Just have patience,” Dench mentioned. “I know it isn’t easy, and everyone is frustrated and just wants to get back to normal. But we need to have hope and always care about other people.”

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