It's a story all parents can relate to: Child has favorite stuffed animal, child loses cherished stuffed animal, child is devastated.
But, for Kentucky mom Tabby Mehring, the loss of son Colin's stuffed elephant has brought some unexpected smiles to her 4-year-old's face and left her amazed at the kindness of strangers.
Colin has had his stuffed elephant, Fezzik, since before he was born. Mehring says she and her fiancé, Will Jackson, picked the toy up toward the end of her pregnancy, and their son immediately bonded with the creature.
"One just never knows exactly what a baby will gravitate to," Mehring told TODAY Parents. "But Colin just loved to play with his elephant and listen to Fezzik sing every night at bedtime. Then, when he got a little older, we'd tuck Fezzik in with him. That silly elephant went everywhere with us."
Until a few weeks ago, when Fezzik disappeared.
For a few days, Colin seemed pacified by the suggestion that his elephant was probably left at his grandparents' house. However, when feverish Colin woke up crying for Fezzik in the middle of the night, Mehring started to search more diligently for the stuffed animal.
"I tore apart the house looking for Fezzik with no luck," said Mehring. "I started texting everyone Colin had visited asking if Fezzik was there. No one had seen him. Fezzik was officially gone."
To help her son cope with his sadness, Mehring put out a request to friends and family on social media, asking them to send postcards and letters from Fezzik to Colin. Family friend Josh Connor, suggested they post a request on Reddit, asking those skilled in Photoshop to create images of Fezzik traveling the world.
Thousands of images began pouring in, showing Fezzik everywhere from the Statue of Liberty to the Great Wall of China.
"We didn't expect much, but it was great fun to see anything and everything that people might offer," said Mehring. "It sort of blew us out of the water when the one or two responses we expected turned into almost two thousand."
Conner says he, too, was blown away by the response to his post.
"I'm glad it got so much attention, especially since a lot of news lately has been pretty sad," said Conner. "I think it's important to try to be good to kids when the opportunity comes along ... I think the photos might have helped. If anything, I think that when Colin grows up, this can show him that there are a lot of positive things out there and that his parents love him very much."
Mehring says she created an email address for the elephant, sending Colin emails from Fezzik detailing his travels around the world, and attaching the Photoshopped images. Mehring used each image as a way to tell her son about different places and cultures.
Postcards from Fezzik have continued to pour in as well. And Mehring was contacted by a Reddit user who offered to purchase a new Fezzik — found in an online auction — and mail it to Colin.
"The new one arrived, and we've been keeping it in its box in our closet because we aren't quite sure how to handle that conversation just yet," said Mehring. "Honestly, I think we are holding out hope for finding the original — for a little while longer at least — while the postcards, pictures and emails are still arriving."
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"We've been checking the mail together, and read the postcards as a family," said Mehring. "Will and I appreciate Fezzik's journey just as much as Colin, I think, only because it's such a lovely adventure. It's been such a great vehicle for learning, but I think, too, that it's helping Colin understand how sometimes people and things we love aren't always there forever."