When Dan Peterson’s wife Mary died in March, he said he fell into a deep depression and was searching for a reason to live. Six months later, he met Norah, a four-year-old girl who decided that she wanted to be his friend.
In an interview with CBS, the 82-year-old Georgia man said he would spend his days staring at squirrels and was just waiting to die.
Six months after Mary’s death, Peterson was at a grocery store when young Norah Wood was passing by in a shopping cart and reached over and called out to him.
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“Hi, old person! It’s my birthday today,” she said, according to her mom Tara.
Peterson said he was instantly enamoured. He gave in to Norah’s demand for a hug and a friendship was born.
“That day, I was going through a day of self-pity. I was just feeling sorry for myself,” he told CNN. “But she changed it.”
“She just wanted to make him feel loved and give him a hug,” said Tara. “And his little lip quivered and he teared up and it was just sweet.”
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Tara snapped a few photos of the unlikely friends and posted about the encounter on Facebook. Somebody recognized Peterson and sent the Woods his contact information with the comment, “That’s the first time I’ve seen that man smile since his wife died.”
Since that chance encounter in late September, Norah has been visiting “Mr. Dan” at least once a week.
Tara has been documenting these visits online, including one last month for Dan’s birthday.
Peterson, who has adult grandchildren, says Norah’s friendship has quite literally changed his life. The anxiety and restless nights that accompanied his grief have gone by the wayside and watching Norah grow up is his new purpose.
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“She opened me to a love that I didn’t know existed,” he said. “If I didn’t have anything else to do the rest of my life, I have her to love.”
As for why Norah decided to zero in on Peterson that fateful day in the grocery store, Tara believes it was more than just pure coincidence.
“I can only assume there was some divine intervention or stars aligning or she was nudged by the universe,” she said. “I know we’re all better because of it though.”