The whole tooth

  • Jon Kelly
  • 6 Oct 08, 01:12 AM GMT

CLARKESVILLE, TN: Dusty Flynn still vividly recalls the worst day of her life. Early one morning in August 2007, two soldiers appeared at her door. They didn't have to tell her that her ex-husband, Josh, who had been serving in Iraq, was dead.

"They don't come to your house just to let you know that he's injured," the 27-year-old said evenly.

"I made them tell me outside, right there."

morgan203.jpgJosh's Black Hawk helicopter had crashed following a mechanical failure, they informed her. It had been his first tour of Iraq.

The news was devastating for Dusty. She had begun dating Josh when she was 16. Although the couple had divorced, she still considered him her best friend.

But hardest part of all was breaking the news to their son Morgan, who was then six. The little boy had adored his father. "He found it really hard that he couldn't reach out and touch his dad any more," Dusty recalled. He would ask her if Josh was safe in heaven.

After Josh's funeral - which was attended by hundreds of mourners - Dusty felt numb. But she found a way to channel her grief a few weeks later when Morgan lost his first tooth.

It had been a long-standing tradition in her family to make their children tooth-shaped pillows, with a pouch to tuck in the denture for the tooth fairy. Dusty asked her sister Amy to sew one for Morgan.

Amy agreed. When she presented it, though, Dusty felt as though she had been knocked sideways. Amy had made it from one of Josh's military uniforms. It carried his name tape across the front.

"I just felt all this emotion," Dusty remembered. "It was as though now Morgan could feel Josh, he could smell him."

Morgan joined us in the living room. He was clutching the pillow under his arm. I asked him why he treasured it so much.

"It reminds me of my dad," he smiled. "It makes me feel close to him."

dusty203.jpgDusty resolved to help other bereaved children feel the same. She and her family set up a project called Operation: Snaggletooth, making tooth pillows from the uniforms of deceased personnel for those they had left behind.

The response was overwhelming. She was inundated with offers of help and supplies. So far, Dusty estimates that she has shipped 200 pillows.

She told me that it helped her cope, poring through lists of military casualties and their families. Sometimes, she said, she would spend hours talking to their loved ones on the phone.

"I don't want any of them to just be names," she added. "I know what they're going through."

After hearing her story, it seemed almost trite to start talking about party politics and elections.

Both of the main candidates for the presidency have very different ideas about how the American military should be deployed, I said. Which one was Dusty most likely to vote for?

"You know, I think that they're both strong leaders," she answered. "I'll leave that one up to God. I believe that he'll take care of us."

I looked over at Morgan, and hoped that she was right.


  • Comment number 1.

    Jon - the Operation Snaggletooth link is missing the http:// that sends it outside the BBC website.

    Hope this doesn't come across as insensitive, being the first comment on a post like this...

  • Comment number 2.

    It is the small things like this "Memory Cushion" that bring such comfort to bereaved youngsters. My friends knit "trauma teddies" for firefighters to give out to youngsters whose favourite soft toys have been lost in a house fire or a car accident. Small items, but given with much love and received with immense gratitude.

  • Comment number 3.

    I love your blog and your sensitivity. Until you have someone serving abroad you don't have the notion of what it's like. My heart goes out to all who have suffered losses of their loved ones. To mothers, fathers, children, exes and not exes- You never want to receive that news... We must all have to learn to live in peace once and for all.
    Our minds must join in reaching this aim.

  • Comment number 4.

    With all due respect to the mother and all the families who've suffered terrible losses, I'm afraid I just don't understand the whole "God will decide" mentality. Are they not aware the United States is a democracy? That means the people get to decide, based on what they think is most important, and hopefully not just leave it up to a minority who will vote or those who'll pander to the God vote.

    And this is not to mention that it was George W Bush and his ideas of doing God's will that created the horrible situation in Iraq. It's not God that will decide the President, but people's votes. (Or the Supreme Court.)

  • Comment number 5.

    YSB (#4), maybe she just didn't want to talk about politics at that time.

  • Comment number 6.

    YSB(#4), echo #5's comment. I'm not standing in this brave woman's shoes, nor can I genuinely feel an ounce of this family's pain and loss. I'll not stand in judgment of what Dusty believes or doesn't believe. I respect and admire her, the work she is doing to help others in similar situations. To do anything less would be distasteful and disrespectful on my part.

  • Comment number 7.

    To Dusty Flynn

    I grieve with you. When I saw that car driving up our road I also knew. My legs gave out and I sat on the ground and waited. They were kind to me, one went to find my husband in the barn. We went in the house and they told us we had lost our child.

    There is no place for politics in our grief. We just try to do the best we can each day. What you are doing is a blessing on yourself, your child and the memory of your loved one. You are not alone.

  • Comment number 8.

    "And this is not to mention that it was George W Bush and his ideas of doing God's will that created the horrible situation in Iraq"

    Saddam was president of Iraq from 1979 onwards... I think he had something to do with the situation Iraq is in too, as do the countless arabs from outside Iraq who also feel they're doing 'Gods will' by blowing themselves and dozens of iraq civillians up at the same time. Blame it all on Bush if you like, but it doesn't make it any truer.


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