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An Unexpected Friendship Brought The Sun Out Again For A Grieving Man

After his wife died, Dan Peterson didn't know what to do with himself. He spent a lot of time in his garden remembering his wife's favorite flower, white roses.

"I've never been able to get a white rose to grow — all mine are red," Peterson says.

Before she died, Dan and his wife would do everything together. Now, the world just felt darker.

Dan Peterson and Norah Wood met at a grocery store one day. Dan was depressed after losing his wife and Norah thought he needed a friend.
Dan Peterson and Norah Wood met at a grocery store one day. Dan was depressed after losing his wife and Norah thought he needed a friend.

"I'm sitting here starring out the back window of my house, just waiting it out to see how long I was going to live," he says.

One day on a dreaded grocery run, Dan felt particularly depressed.

"I hadn't shaved for a couple days and I hadn't had a haircut probably for three months and didn't give a you-know-what about anything except 'Well, what do I do tomorrow? Watch squirrels?' " he says.

Tara Wood was at the grocery store that day with her four-year-old daughter. Tara says Dan "didn't look like the friendliest man" — but that didn't stop Norah.

"And all of the sudden I come to the end of the hall, er aisle, and here's this little girl, and she's sort of bouncing up and down and pointing at me," Dan says. "And she said, 'Hi old person. Today's my birfday.' "

Norah seemed to know Dan needed some extra cheer.

"I thought he needed a friend because he was sad," Norah says.

Norah Wood and her mom Tara visit Dan just about every week now.
Norah Wood and her mom Tara visit Dan just about every week now.

And Dan did.

"When you have a little girl bouncing up and down and being so happy to be alive, you sort of change," Dan says.

Tara says Dan responded to Norah with, "Well hi little lady, how old are you today?"

Little Norah told her mom she wanted a picture, so the 81-year-old and 4-year-old posed for a photo. Norah then asked him for a hug.

"I don't know — it was magical and profound, and it's this cosmic sweetness that happened, you know, right in front of the dairy section of the grocery store," Tara says.

Tara posted the photo on Facebook and a woman wrote in the comments that she knew Dan, and that it was the first time she'd seen him smile since his wife died. So Tara called and planned a visit.

"Norah just ran right up to him like she's known him all of her life and she was climbing all over him like a monkey," Tara says.

"And of course every time I turned around, she'd come back over and hug me again," Dan says.

"I just promised I loved him," Norah says.

When it was time to leave, Norah and her mom passed the rose bush by Dan's door, "and it just blossomed a great big red rose," Dan says.

Norah leaned over to smell it.

"It was precious to me," Dan says. "The only thing I had to give back, so I got it and gave it to her."

With his pocket knife, he slowly carved each thorn from the stem and handed it to Norah.

"That sort of sealed our friendship I think," Dan says.

From then on Tara decided Dan was family, and they visit him about every week.

"She just blows in like a whirling dervish, plunders through his cabinets, and he slaps his knee and laughs and laughs and laughs," Tara says.

They giggle, tell each other secrets and spend time in his yard.

"I go in his garden where he grows vegetables," Norah says.

Now, Dan will never be alone again.

"Norah got me out of the loop, gave me something to live for," Dan says. "It's like the sun came out, you know?"

Copyright 2020 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

Corrected: November 21, 2017 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story misspelled Norah Wood's first name as Nora.