VANCOUVER — "I love you, I'm proud of you, I'll always be with you."
Those are the words Vancouver resident Mara Soriano would hear in the voice of her mother, who died of cancer last year, when she pressed a button on the paw of a custom teddy bear.
Soriano is pleading for the return of the bear after she says it was stolen while she was moving to a new apartment on Friday. The call gained volume after celebrities such as Ryan Reynolds and George Stroumboulopoulos each promised $5,000 rewards for its return.
"Every time I missed her, I would hug the bear and I would listen to her voice and it made me feel a lot closer to her," Soriano said. "Honestly, I feel a little silly, I know it's just a bear to the guy who stole it, but it was everything to me. I feel like I lost her all over again."
Soriano said she was 18 when her mother Marilyn Soriano was diagnosed with cancer about 10 years ago. But medication was effective in keeping the tumour growth down and, for a long time, it seemed like everything was under control.
Her mother gave her the bear as a gift in December 2017 after she moved to Vancouver from Toronto. As the eldest of three, Soriano said she didn't get a lot of one-on-one time with her mother and it was her mother's way of reminding her that she was loved.
Soriano kept the bear, dressed in her mother's signature style dress and glasses, on her desk.
"I saw it every day and it made me think of my family and made me feel a lot less alone," she said.
Soon after Soriano received the bear, doctors discovered the tumour was growing and her mother's health began to decline. After a year and a half of treatment, she died in June 2019.
"By the end of her life, she wasn't the mom I had grown up with. Her voice had changed, it was much softer. The cancer had really eaten away at her and that bear was basically the last reminder of the mom that I knew — it was her voice that I remembered growing up."
Soriano said she was in the midst of moving to a new apartment when she got a call from a friend who had been on his way to help. The friend had been hit by a car and Soriano rushed to help him, accompanying him to the emergency room.
The friend is OK — no broken bones — but Soriano had left her backpack outside in the midst of her distraction.
Along with the bear, she lost an iPad with photos and video of her mother that hadn't been backed up.
Since Friday, Soriano said she hasn't eaten or slept properly and has been walking the streets and alleys of the neighbourhood hoping to find the bear discarded somewhere.
Restaurants and cafes in the area have shared security footage showing a man picking up the bag. Soriano was told she would have to wait until Monday to see if her building manager would also release footage.
In the meantime, she said she's been heartened by the support she has received, including from the celebrities who amplified her message.
After Reynolds offered the first reward, Stroumboulopoulos offered to match it, while actors Zach Braff and Dan Levy both retweeted calls for the bag's return.
Soriano said she had considered offering a reward, but with all the moving expenses she was already facing, it would have been tough.
"I'm so, so floored by the response," she said. "I'm blown away by everyone's kindness and generosity."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2020.
The Canadian Press