Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving Friday in Mesa, Arizona, but there was an empty seat at the dinner table. After 43 years of marriage, Dench’s husband Lonnie Dench died in April of complications caused by Covid-19.
“I wasn’t looking forward to the start because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there. The last seven months have been so difficult, but it was really important to me, ”Dench, 63, told CNN.
“I can’t even explain how much joy I had eating great food with my favorite company. We laughed, we had a great time, we remembered 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 decided to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday so they could get tested for the coronavirus before celebrating with their own families so they wouldn’t risk spreading the virus.
“At first it was sad. We had a photo of Lonnie at the table with a candle lit, and we were all shaking at first, but it lasted five minutes before we met again, ”Hinton, 21, told CNN. “We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing. “
From strangers to friends to family
Dench and Hinton are an unlikely pair of friends. All it took to put them together was a few texts at the wrong number.
Dench, a grandmother of six, intended to text her grandson inviting him to his 2016 Thanksgiving dinner, but accidentally texted Hinton, then 17, while he was in class.
He was confused that someone pretending to be his grandmother had texted him. She sent a smiling selfie of herself at work. She was not his grandmother, but he asked if he could still have a plate.
“Of course you can,” she replied. “That’s what grannies do… feed everyone!” “
So he showed up at her house to share the meal, and the two immediately became friends. Eventually, he and his girlfriend started having regular double dates with Dench and Lonnie.
“Everything has to do with this feeling. There is just this link. It’s like we know each other from past lives, ”Dench said. “There is absolutely no generational gap between us. The conversation flows, we never run out of things to discuss. ”
When Hinton first showed up at Dench’s door, he feared there would be awkward silences or times when he wouldn’t know what to say. What he didn’t expect was how she would very quickly become one of his closest friends.
“Every time we met we would spend four or five hours talking and talking. It was never awkward, Wanda and Lonnie became two close best friends for me, ”Hinton said.
“There is nothing about her that is mean or indifferent. I feel like I’ve told her the whole story of my life, and she always listens and shares her own story. She’s just the most loving person. She’s pretty much perfect. “
For Dench and Hinton, spending Thanksgiving together is a cherished tradition they both hope will never end. But without Lonnie, things feel a little different.
“Lonnie was missing this year, and he was a big part of Thanksgiving history and a big part of our lives, but that’s something Wanda and I know for sure. Lonnie would have been very angry if we hadn’t made Thanksgiving together. Hinton said.
Lonnie died on April 5 after battling the coronavirus and suffering from double pneumonia caused by the virus, according to Dench.
“I didn’t think I should go home without him,” she said. “Even when he was in the hospital, I thought he was doing better and would come back to me. She was my soul mate. She was my biggest cheerleader.
What everyone remembers the most about Lonnie, she added, is her kindness. He was known to give random donations to hospices, pay for people’s meals without them knowing, and help those he sees in need.
Hinton’s memories of him are no different.
“Lonnie was never the quiet guy. Just as I walked in the door the first time I met him, he didn’t even reach out for a handshake. He immediately pulled me in for a hug, ”Hinton said. “He was the type of guy who always raised your hopes whenever you felt down. Losing him was losing a best friend. ”
Hinton and Dench are still healing from their loss and say Lonnie’s memory will live with them forever. For now, they’re just hoping her story will encourage people to be more careful during the pandemic.
“Just have patience,” Dench said. “I know it’s not easy, and everyone is frustrated and just want to get back to normal. But we must have hope and always care about others. “