The internet is mourning for everyone involved in one of its greatest stories. Several years ago, then teenager Jamal Hinton and Grandma Wanda went viral when she accidentally invited him to Thanksgiving via a wrong number text.
Although it became clear through the course of their first conversation that Jamal and Wanda were perfect strangers, Wanda let the invitation stand, and Jamal took her up on it. A glorious friendship blossomed, Jamal began spending Thanksgiving every year with Wanda and her husband, Lonnie, and the internet was there to witness the whole thing.
But on April 1, 2020, the update we got from these fine people wasn't a good one. Jamal tweeted, "I am so sad to announce that Wanda and Lonnie both have COVID-19 and that Lonnie is currently in the hospital fighting both COVID-19 and pneumonia. Please send words of love and encouragement their way."
That tweet went viral and people everywhere prayed for Lonnie's recovery. People everywhere absolutely loved this story and their friendship. "This is the only thing I look forward to on Thanksgiving," one person wrote.
"No!" another person wrote. "COVID-19 can't do this to our favorite internet grandmother! Wishing them good health!"
"If you know the backstory of how their beautiful friendship came to be, you'd understand why so many of us are shook by this news," yet another wrote. "Sending lots of love and light to both families."
It is safe to say people were devastated and praying for Wanda and Lonnie each day. Since that first Thanksgiving they spent together, Jamal got a girlfriend, whom he introduced to Wanda and Lonnie.
He would help Wanda and Lonnie set up their phones, and he even cooked Thanksgiving dinner for them this past year to switch things up and show his appreciation for everything they've done for him.
They built a true friendship out of this wrong number text, and it has been a joy, as someone who covers internet stories for a living, to read about their lives as they have progressed, both apart and together.
But on April 8, Jamal delivered bad news. Lonnie had died in the hospital from COVID-19 complications. He didn't make it.
I can't imagine having your own personal tragedy broadcast across the internet as Wanda has, but Jamal says she's finding the messages of support extremely helpful, which is good.
And indeed, the well-wishes poured in. "Soooo sorry," one person wrote. "I know Lonnie became family to you along with Wanda. You all have brought joy to us every year. My condolences to you at this time."
"Deepest condolences to both of your families," another wrote. "Please continue to send Wanda EXTRA virtual huge and love on behalf of alllllll us during this incredibly difficult time."
In a follow-up tweet, Jamal clarifies that although Wanda tested positive, she is not sick. He then criticized the way their state, Arizona, has handled the crisis so far.
Lonnie will be missed by so many, even those who didn't actually know him. And our hearts are with his wife Wanda, the rest of his family, and with Jamal as well.
The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.