The owner of a secondhand bookstore in a northern English market town was sorting through a pile of old books when an envelope fell from one. Inside was an undated letter and a faded photo of a woman holding a little girl on her lap. The letter was addressed to “Bethany (My tiny treasure)” and signed “Mam.” It said if Bethany was reading it, it meant the letter’s author had died.
Gordon Draper’s eyes welled. These were a dying woman’s last words to her child. He had to find Bethany.
“Whoever it is will want this,” he said he thought. “You wouldn’t throw away a letter like that.”
He assumed if the book ended up in his shop then Bethany was likely from around Bishop Auckland. And he thought he actually recognized the little girl’s face. Even if she’d since left the area, there might be someone in town who would recognize the picture.
He started with the local newspaper. The Northern Echo ran the story of the lost letter, which promised the little girl that her mom would always be with her, on its front page last weekend.
Meanwhile, Bethany Gash, now 21 and a mother herself, was on Facebook about 10 miles away when a close family friend messaged her to check out the article. As she read her mother’s words, words she thought had been lost to her forever, she said she thought she must be dreaming.
Gash was only 4 when her mother died of cystic fibrosis in 1999. Five years later, her family moved to a new home and the letter, tucked away in the pages of a book for safekeeping, was inadvertently donated.
Gash said she remembers unpacking and looking for the letter, and then frantically searching through everything in hopes it was there.
“That’s when I realized it was long gone by now and I’d never see it again,” she said.
She was still young when the letter was lost, but she remembered pieces from it, especially the part where her mom tells her it’s okay to talk about her after she’s gone.
In the letter, her mother wrote that she’d “gone to heaven to live with the angels” and “I will always be in the sky making sure you are alright and watching over you so when you see a bright star like in the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle little star that’s me.”
“I hope you don’t forget me,” she wrote, “because I’ll always be your mam.”
Draper hand-delivered the letter, and Gash said she was greatly moved to have it back, but also by this stranger’s kindness.
“It was all emotion. I wanted to burst out crying,” she said. “To actually find the letter and the lengths he went to to track me down was so overwhelming.”
Draper brought her a children’s book for her son.
“It was amazing, I suppose. I was in awe that it actually got to her,” he said. “I think the odds, and just having the first name. She said she’s going to come to the shop, so I guess I have a new friend.”
Gash said that as she got older, she spoke less about her mom than she did as a child with her dad. But this story, and all the attention it’s received in the past week, is like fulfilling her mom’s dying wish: Her daughter is talking about her.
And the letter is no longer inside a book. It’s propped up on Gash’s mantel.