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4-year-old 'heals' widower with encounter in grocery store

Posted November 22

AUGUSTA, Ga. — A chance meeting at a Georgia grocery store changed the lives of a 4-year-old girl and an 82-year-old man forever.

Dan Peterson was devastated when his wife, Mary, passed away earlier this year. He grew so depressed, his life became more about wishing for his death, CBS News reported.

Until the day he met Norah Wood.

In the midst of his lowest period, Peterson, known as Mr. Dan, found himself wandering the aisles of his local grocery store.

“It was one of those days that I’m on my own little private pity party,” he told CBS. “I’m feeling sorry for myself and doubting my beliefs.”

As he approached the end of the canned vegetable aisle, he heard a little voice calling out to him.

“As Mr. Dan walked by, she (Norah) smiled and waved. ‘Hi, old person! It’s my birthday!’” Norah’s mom, Tara Wood, told CBS.

Mr. Dan “stopped in his tracks,” Wood said, and his frown quickly turned into a smile. He asked Norah how old she was going to be, and chatted with the little family for a bit before they parted ways.

But little Norah wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to her new friend. She begged her mother to track him down so she could take a picture with him.

“She zeroed in on him like a missile,” Wood told "CBS Evening News." “She didn’t want anything from him. She just wanted to make him feel loved and give him a hug.”

So Wood headed out in search of Mr. Dan. Norah was, after all, the birthday girl. And what the birthday girls says, goes.

They found Mr. Dan on the bread aisle. When Wood asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a photo with Norah for her birthday, “He looked confused and then stunned and then delighted,” Wood wrote in a Facebook post about the encounter.

“They posed together, and then they hugged each other like they were long lost friends,” Wood continued.

When Wood thanked Mr. Dan for taking the time to humor Norah’s birthday wish.

“He teared up and said ‘No, thank you. This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time. You’ve made me so happy, Ms. Norah,’” Wood said.

The unlikely friendship didn’t end when the two parties left the grocery store. Wood’s post, which included photos of Mr. Dan and Norah, quickly went viral, and a Facebook friend who happened to know Mr. Dan passed his information along to Wood she could arrange a visit to his home.

Mr. Dan happily obliged.

“They came by the house, and sure enough, (Norah) grabbed me and hugged me like there was no tomorrow,” Mr. Dan told CBS News.

Norah came bearing gifts: their now-famous grocery store photos, some pictured she’d colored and some treats she’d picked out for him, Wood said.

If it were up to Norah, she’d visit Mr. Dan every day. She does call him at least once a week, though, and was able to help him celebrate his birthday, according to CBS.

Mr. Dan said he has a new reason to keep living, and that reason is Norah.

“If I didn’t have anything else to do the rest of my life,” he said, “I have her to love.”

Wood posted a P.O. Box number for Mr. Dan in response to the thousands of comments from strangers who’ve reached out, wanting to send him some love. Since then, the letters have poured in from all over.

"He's so incredibly kind and grateful for Norah's friendship...he's cleared out a drawer where he's going to save every single piece of correspondence he gets because he wants her to know how far and wide her little act of kindness has rippled," she wrote.

It was the birthday gift that keeps on giving.

“I can only assume there was some divine intervention or stars aligning or she was nudged by the universe,” Wood told CBS News. “I know we’re all better because of it, though.”

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.

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