UPDATE: Jamal Hinton posted on Twitter photos from the preliminary Thanksgiving celebration and reunion on the holiday itself on Thursday, Nov. 26. See them below.
Wanda Dench, the Arizona grandma who accidentally invited a stranger to her Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 and formed a beautiful friendship with him as a result, is celebrating her first holiday without her husband Lonnie Dench, who died from coronavirus in April.
"He had the truest heart of love, like no other," Wanda told local news outlet Arizona Family's Briana Whitney shortly after Lonnie's death. "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."
Jamal Hinton, the then teen who Wanda accidentally invited to Thanksgiving dinner when she texted the wrong number—and then extended the invite to the holiday anyway—shared the sad news on Twitter in April, writing, "As some of you may have already found out tonight Lonnie did not make it... 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!"
That same month, Jamal also shared a video of him at lunch with Wanda, Lonnie, and his girlfriend Mikaela Grubbs, writing "We miss you Lonnie."
Briana followed up on the story of Wanda and Jamal, and shared that while the two won't get together on Thanksgiving this year, as they have for the past four years, they were still celebrating the festivities—and honoring Lonnie in the process.
Briana's photos, which she posted to Twitter, show Wanda and Jamal, now 21, sitting at the dinner table along with a photo and candle for Lonnie.
"It may be a little early, but Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without Wanda & Jamal," Briana tweeted. "In 2016 they went viral when she accidentally texted him instead of her real grandson. But this year they honor Wanda's husband Lonnie, who passed from COVID."
"It's going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him," Wanda told The New York Times of celebrating the holiday without Lonnie. "My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we've done."
Fortunately, their holiday tradition will live on.