A San Diego-area woman mailed her late father's ashes to her brother in Oregon but somehow the U.S. Post Office delivered the ashes to a stranger in Washington state.
Carole Irwin, of Alpine, loved her father Randall more than anything in the world. "He was a brilliant man, absolutely brilliant," Irwin said. "I mean I lived for that man."
Irwin's father was a geologist and an Army Veteran who fought in Vietnam. He also struggled with alcoholism and watched helplessly as liver cancer finally took his life last year.
It is a tremendous loss that she is having a hard time dealing with.
"I know everything happens for a reason," Irwin said with tears in her eyes.
She kept her father's ashes in special urn and sent a similar urn with ashes to her brother who lives in southern Oregon. She also included their father's dog tags from his service in Vietnam.
"Every single time I hold that urn it's like a hug from him," Irwin told NBCSanDiego. "And I wanted to share that with my brother."
Last week, Irwin went to the Santee Post Office and mailed the package to Oregon. But somehow along the way the urn and dog tags ended up in a different package sent to Karen Smith in Seattle, Washington.
When Smith opened the package she couldn't believe her eyes.
"And I thought to myself, we got a lost soldier," Smith said in a phone interview.
She started asking friends on Facebook what she should do. She had the dog tags so she had a name and a social security number. Smith ended up calling a Seattle television station for help and reporters were able to locate Irwin.
A Seattle postal official said it appears Irwin's package may have gotten damaged, causing the contents to spill out and a worker may have mistakenly placed the contents into a different package.
Irwin called it a blessing because she got a chance to talk to Smith.
It turns out that Smith had a similar story of tragedy in her life because of addiction. She too lost someone very close to her.
"And it's been very therapeutic for me to talk to her, I mean I talked to her for two hours yesterday," Irwin said. "She's been such a blessing, she really has been."
Smith is planning to personally deliver the urn and dog tags to Irwin's brother in Oregon in the coming weeks.
Irwin is planning to be there to meet her.