Abandonment doesn't happen in a vacuum (not a Hoover vacuum, anyway). It always affects multiple people. For example, Opal's mom left when Opal was only three, leaving a trail of hurt behind her. Her choice still affects Opal and her dad seven years later. The key to healing? Instead of abandoning Winn-Dixie, the two of them decide to adopt him. They heal the hole in their family with a dog. Okay, it's not that the dog replaces Opal's mom, or anything. But he helps them figure out how to heal. In Because of Winn-Dixie, no one gets left behind.
Opal is attracted to friendships with older women like Miss Franny and Gloria Dump in order to fill the void in her life left by her mother's absence.
Despite a healed relationship with Opal, the preacher's heart may never completely heal because of the guilt he feels at the loss of his wife.