Ho‘okipa Via The United States Postal Service

I have a brand new friend.   Her name is Tiffanni.

The exact birth date of our friendship was May 21st of this year.
Most times when we say birthday it evokes thoughts of
balloons, cake, gifts, happy thoughts.

When Tiffanni goes back one year from this May to
May 21, 2006, without a doubt there is sadness and pain.

It was on that day her 22 year old son Dustin’s brain died.
Dustin suffered head injuries while riding solo on an
all terrain vehicle.     Dustin died on May 31, 2006.

I live in Ohio and Tiffanni lives in a small town in Iowa.

So what has connected us ?

Dustin Our sons and their service to this country in the United States Air Force.  Dustin and my son Vincent met one another while stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Vincent phoned me on the day of the accident.

From the first “Hi Mom”, I responded “What’s wrong?”

His voice cracked as my then 21 year old explained how his friend was in critical condition.   He did not know the exact details.

Our conversation was quick, and I ended saying I would keep Dustin in my prayers.   

I communicated with Vince by email and the prognosis for Dustin was not good.   
On May 31, 2006 he was removed from life support.

I asked Vince last year for contact information for Dustin’s family.
I never got that from him.   Perhaps I should have been more

Over this past year, I’ve attempted to help Vince with his grief.
As a young man who at times has been hundreds and now
thousands of miles away in Korea, it’s not been easy.

Early this Spring I went on the internet determined to find a way
to reach Dustin’s family.   I started with plenty of time that if I could not locate them, I would still have time before the one year anniversary of his passing to throttle Vince and get that from him.

I was able to locate a mailing address and created a card with this beautiful quote:

“In one of the stars I shall be living
In one of them I shall be laughing
And so it will be as if all the
stars were laughing when you look
at the sky at night.”
The Little Prince ”“ Antoine De Saint-Exupery

I also wrote out a letter to Tiffanni and her family.
I did not know Dustin, nor his Mom, but I do know it’s never too late to express your heart felt feelings to another person.

Tiffanni emailed me this message in return.

Dear Deb,
Thank you so much for your card and kind words.  It’s funny that I received it on a day I wasn’t feeling so strong, you see Monday was a year since the accident and that is the day I got your card. 

How is Vinny???
I have thought of him often this year and have prayed for his safety. 
I miss all of the guys so much.  They really helped me in the coping, I often joke that I may have lost one son, but I got 10 more. 

It has been rough and I deal with things on a daily basis. Fortunately, my other two kids keep me busy all the time, so when I get to feeling too bad, I just remind myself that I have to keep plugging away. 

I also know in my heart that he is with  us always and we will see him again in a better place. The Air Force was so great through it all and I will always feel that they are my extended family.

Dustin couldn’t have met and made a better group of friends!!! 
Please forward this on to Vinny and give him my love.
Tell him to email and keep safe.


Speaking of stars, they were indeed lined up and by
God’s grace my card arrived to Tiffanni on May 21, 2007.

NEVER, EVER let anyone tell you that snail mail is a
thing of the past.

It’s almost as if the paper of the card or letter is ~charged~
with the Spirit of Ho’okipa.
From your hand and heart, to the receiver’s hand and heart.

A most powerful thing indeed.!

I would also like to share when Dustin was deployed to
Afghanistan in 2005, the Air Force ordered him (as all airmen
are so ordered) to write a living will.   Following his wishes,
two recipients have a chance for life through the donation
of Dustin’s organs. 

*Before sharing this story, I sent Tiffanni a copy.  I wanted
her blessing before going forward.   She responded that
she was honored to have me share ‘our’ story.


Guest Author: Debra Estep, author of Deb Inside.
When you visit Deb at her place, be sure to take a look at her wonderful art, it is so softly warming – as is Deb! This is one of my favorites, she calls it Wild Roses:



  1. says

    Debra, thanks so much for sharing this story with us (and heartfelt thanks to Tiffanni too).
    There were so many messages wrapped up in the story, but for me it was a powerful reminder of the way that we can make connections, even with people that we do not know. It’s about sharing something deep within ourselves.
    And I guess that’s what I would understand by hospitality. Giving freely of yourself to another human being, extending the hand of friendship :)

  2. says

    The timing of your story shared does evoke a rush of emotion Deb, in so many ways. With the 4th of July a day away, I have found myself thinking of my brother Jeff, a Lt.Col in the Army, several times over the last week. Military service has been his life’s career choice, and during his tour of duty in Iraq (he is safely home with his family now) he would often speak to us about the camaraderie of the Armed Forces ‘Ohana, and the bonds that are forged in service to both our country, and with each other in their completely unconditional spirit of ho’okipa and aloha. It is a kind of love that most of us can only hope we will understand and experience.

  3. says

    Thank you Joanna for your beautiful
    comments on my story.
    I am going to share the link to Tiffanni
    and she will read your words.
    Beyond a doubt Rosa, it takes having
    someone you love in the ‘sand’ to
    really ~feel~ the emotion that military
    families go through.
    My daughter in law, Dana is proudly
    serving in the United States Air Force
    and she is now deployed to Iraq.
    I know many people don’t personally
    know someone in the military.
    If anyone would like to send Dana a
    card or note of support, please drop
    me an email and I will send you her
    mailing address.
    A card goes at the same 1st class
    postage as US mail.
    Thank you Rosa for sharing the
    roses picture. It was a watercolor
    that I did for an Air Force Grandmother
    for her birthday last year.
    Anyone is more than welcome to download
    the paintings (graphics) I have on my site.
    If you drop the pic into a Word doc.
    and print on card stock, they make
    nice notecards.
    xo xo

  4. Tiffanni says

    Thank you so much for your beautiful words and forwarding them on to me. I’m so proud to call you my friend!

  5. Vicki Stevens says

    Dear Deb:
    My name is Vicki Stevens. My husband, Dave, and I are good friends of Tiffanni and Kelly Connell. I just wanted to let you know how much your friendship has meant to Tiffanni. It came “out of the blue” at a very rough time for her. Being here on a day-to-day basis and talking with her either face-to-face or on the phone daily, I see what she suffers through, although those of us who knew and loved Dustin will never know the ache she feels. We make jokes about Dustin “causing” things to happen. But, I really do believe there are angels among us and you just happen to be one of them.
    Some of the young men Dustin brought to the farm near Shenandoah still call Dave and I Grandpa and Grandma, and it feels good to be able to share in the kind of love and pride Dave and I have for all of these young people. They are the best of us.
    We pray for all those who are serving here and abroad. And we know that Dustin’s spirit is here with us, just waiting to pull some kind of crazy prank.
    Again, thanks for being there.

  6. says

    After talking to you today for the first time… I know why our kids connected.
    I feel the very same about you ‘friend’.!
    Dear Vicki,
    Your words have touched me deeply.
    Some people shy away or pull back when
    a friend has such a loss.
    Bless you and all who have been there
    for Tif and her family day by day and
    continue to be there.
    Thank you too for the prayers for
    our military.
    xo xo