Widower, who was 'healed' by preschooler's friendship, dies

Their touching friendship and the story of how they met captured hearts. And it may have even inspired others to act on the notion that a simple act of kindness toward a stranger can mean a world of difference in that person's life.

At age 4, Norah Wood struck up a conversation with Dan Peterson, leading to a years-long friendship with the widower. (Tara Wood)

In 2016, 4-year-old Norah Wood was at a grocery store with her mother in Augusta, Georgia, when the child sparked a conversation with an elderly man. That conversation would lead to a years-long bond and would bring joy and much healing to the man who had recently lost his wife. 

Dan Peterson, who later affectionately became to be known as Mr. Dan, passed away last month in Augusta, Georgia at age 86.

In his, obituary among the names of loved ones whom he's survived by, his "dear friend Norah Wood" was at the end of the long list of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and siblings he left behind.

It was during that fateful trip to the grocery store, when a precocious little girl stood up in her shopping cart, looked over at Peterson, waved wildly and proclaimed, "Hi old person! It's my birfday today!" 

The child's mother, Tara Wood, took to social media and wrote about the moment Norah called out to the stranger, whom the mom then described as "elderly, stone-faced, and furrow-browed." 

Wood told of how before she even had a chance to correct her daughter for calling him "old person," the man promptly responded, "Well hello little lady! And how old are you today?" 

Norah Wood forged a friendship with Mr. Dan during a visit to a local grocery store in Augusta, Ga. (Tara Wood)

That first meeting included a photo op for the pair. Wood described how Mr. Dan "wordlessly stared at her [daughter] with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered knuckles. She kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek," the mom wrote, adding, "He beamed."

It would be the start of a lovely bond bewteen an unlikely pair. The mother would later learn that the elderly man was suffering from a broken heart in the aftermath of his wife's death.

Wood described that after one of their first visits with Mr. Dan, he confided to her that sleeping through the night had been a challenge since his wife's passing but said that since he'd met Norah, he'd been able to sleep soundly again. 

"Norah has healed me," Mr. Dan told her.

Over the years, their friendship grew, they shared birthdays, holidays and other special moments together, and they became family. 

The story of how Norah befriended Mr. Dan touched many people, and Wood decided to set up a Facebook page called "Norah and Mr. Dan," chronicling the special bond between the two. In a precious post from 2018, Wood shared a moving video illustrating how close her daughter and their friend were.

"I'm not sure what she was thinking about but while we were sitting on Dan's back porch, Norah started crying," Wood wrote in the post. She said that when Mr. Dan asked the little girl why she was crying, her daughter responded by saying, “Nothing. I just love you a lots,” as she wiped away her tears, hugging her friend.  

Clearly moved by the child's expression of love, Mr. Dan told the girl, "So now, every time I see you, I get happy. I love you, I love your family." 

Last month, when Tara Wood announced the passing of their beloved friend, she said they had just spent the morning with him the day before. "He was in good spirits, joyful, and happy," she wrote. "He had a belly full of pancakes and a heart full of love." 

The mother went on to challenge people to be kind and generous with their compassion toward others, saying, "It could change someone's life- and, if you're lucky, your own."

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.