Viral Grandma & Teen Celebrated First Thanksgiving Since Her Husband Died Of COVID

Let’s face it — this Thanksgiving is going to be a rough one.

For one thing, most of us won’t be seeing our families in person due to risk of spreading the pandemic with cross-country travel. Sadly, 240,000+ dead from COVID-19 also means a great many families will find it harder to feel grateful.

So you know what we need? Something sweet, something traditional… No, not sweet potato casserole…

Remember Wanda Dench? Back in 2016, the grandma went viral after accidentally texting someone she thought was her grandson about Thanksgiving dinner — someone who ended up being a complete stranger. However, when teenager Jamal Hinton answered with kindness, she invited him anyway! And a new tradition was born!

They shared the exchange on the internet, and the story quickly went viral as the world fell in love with the unlikely friendship.

Jamal has spent every Thanksgiving since with Wanda and her husband Lonnie. And seeing them every year has just been the cutest, most heartwarming thing.

A post shared by King Jamal (@jamalhinton12)


Sadly, their makeshift family was one of the thousands hit by the pandemic. As you may have heard, back in April both Wanda and Lonnie got the coronavirus — and Lonnie didn’t survive. Jamal shared the heartbreaking news on Instagram, 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!”

Last month Jamal addressed Thanksgiving, admitting it was in a much different light:

“Like I said on Twitter this Thanksgiving along with all the holidays coming up aren’t going to be the same as past ones but we will make the best of it. Rest In Peace to Lonnie and everyone else we lost this year we will miss you greatly. Thank you for being in our lives.

But the tragedy wasn’t going to stop the viral besties from sharing the holiday together. In a much smaller gathering, per COVID guidelines, Jamal and his girlfriend had their fifth dinner with Wanda over the weekend. The 63-year-old widow

Wanda told CNN of the celebration:

“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.”

And it was important to Lonnie, too! As she explained to The New York Times:

“My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we’ve done.”

Oh man, we knew we were going to need a tissue…

It’s a good thing they went through with it! Wanda told CNN the fellowship was healing after such a tough year:

“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.”


Jamal, now 21, agreed, painting a picture of the poignant event:

“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. We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing.”

We’re so happy they shared the lovely tradition even in the darkest of times — and that they shared it with us, brightening up our own holidays.

Our thanks go out to you, Wanda and Jamal! And to Lonnie for being such an inspiration…

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