As Kim Cole visited her son's grave, on what would've been his 35th birthday, a bright smile outweighed her broken heart. Just hours earlier, Kim received a message, a new memory of her son in the form of an envelope tucked away in the pages of a thrift store find thousands of miles away.
"You can't explain it. It's been 13 years, and on this day that happens, you can't say there isn't divine intervention. It's my son, Darrel saying here's your sign, just wanted to say hi. It's my birthday," said Kim Cole.
Kim's son, Darrel Morris, died while serving in Iraq in 2007. It was his second deployment. He was just 21-years old and a Ferris High School grad. A few months before his death, Darrel mailed a letter to his girlfriend in North Carolina. Somehow, that love letter ended up wedged into the pages of a dog training book and then donated to a thrift store. A South Carolina man, Andrew Collins, and his wife, who train dogs for a living, bought the book and filed it away on a shelf. For years, the book went unnoticed- not a single page cracked open until now. Last week, a curious clients' son picked up the dog training book, and while flipping through the pages, an envelope drifted to the floor.
"Out pops this little envelope. I saw it hit the floor. After finishing up with my client, I bent down to toss it, and I flipped it over, and it's postmarked from a Marine Corps base," said Andrew Collins.
As a Navy veteran and a dad, Andrew knew he needed to find out more about Darrel and give the letter back. So, he started googling and quickly learned about Darrel's death. He couldn't find anything about the girlfriend, so his search turned to Darrel's family.
"I knew if I lost my son and something like this appeared, it would mean the world to me to have it," said Andrew.
After researching for a while, Andrew wasn't getting anywhere. So, he propped up the letter right next to his computer and waited a week.
"It was almost like a voice, saying 'try again, why you giving up? Just post it on Facebook and see what happens'," said Andrew.
Just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, Andrew posted a moving message about the letter on his Facebook page. Thanks to a tight-knit group of military friends, he was on the phone with Kim in Spokane within the hour and mere minutes before Darrel's birthday.
"It was brought and given to us as a birthday gift. It's been surreal. We don't get any more memories; any piece of Darrel that shows up is huge to us. It's a letter to an ex-girlfriend, it doesn't matter- it's a piece of his life, and to us that's priceless. I just want to put my hands on it- I know it was something in his head and heart," said Kim.
"It's almost like God knew where the envelope needed to be to get it to Kim. It had to be divine. I don't want to be in the spotlight, Darrell, who lost his life, is in the spotlight," said Andrew.
The letter is now on its way to Spokane-a cherished message and one more memory for a Marine's mom.
"I'm so blown away by the whole thing. There aren't enough thank yous in the world. You gave us a piece of him back," said Kim.