Instead of a large multifamily event, Ms. Dench and Mr. Hinton held a small dinner on Friday, where they gave thanks and talked about their friendship, and Mr. Dench’s death, Ms. Dench said. During their meal, they kept a burning candle and portrait of Mr. Dench in front of his seat at the table.
“It’s going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him,” she said. “My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we’ve done.”
‘You can be family with anybody.’
Ms. Dench and Mr. Hinton’s chance encounter in 2016 blossomed into a deep friendship. They met up for frequent double dates, accompanied by Mr. Dench and Mikaela Grubbs, 21, Mr. Hinton’s girlfriend. The couples once spent four hours at a barbecue restaurant laughing and talking about “everything imaginable”— their lives, jobs, favorite music, movies and the possibility of life on other planets, Ms. Dench said.
“After meeting her the first time I just knew, she’s another person, age is really just a number,” said Mr. Hinton, who is now 21 and works as a car salesman, of Ms. Dench. “It doesn’t matter, you can be friends with anybody, you can be family with anybody.”
Mr. Hinton, who said he had aspirations of becoming a sports agent, started a YouTube channel after his rise to fame, where he occasionally chronicles his life with his girlfriend, including some cameos by the Denches.
Their Thanksgivings have usually been spent at the Dench home, but last year — the one Ms. Dench recalls as her favorite — they spent the day with Ms. Grubbs’ family. “Gosh it was just a whirlwind of fun,” she said.
Ms. Dench met her husband when she was 20 and living in Idaho, an encounter she considers love at first sight, she said. They married a year later and had a daughter, in addition to two children from her previous marriage. They settled in Arizona to escape the cold and doted on their six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.