Twenty years. How did all that time pass in what, at times, feels like the blink of an eye and other times a lifetime ago?

When I reflect on my late teens and early 20s, I think about how I made it. Truthfully, this grief journey began 25 years ago. Within those five years from ages 19-23, I had lost my dad, half-sister, and all of my grandparents. But the final blow, the loss that shook me to the core . . . 

In what felt like an instant, my mother went from being full of life to being in a hospital bed, and there was no hope. At 23, I was faced with a tough decision. Did I leave her on a ventilator and she would be a vegetable, or say goodbye and give others a chance at life.

I went with the latter, and it invariably changed my life.

In the beginning, I will not deny I suffered—my mother was my everything, she was my life, my best friend, and now she was gone. I was afraid to sleep in my room as it was next to hers, so I slept on the couch for a long time. I know at several points I wanted to die because the pain I felt was so overwhelming. But I got up every day to feed my cats, which I credit for saving my life. I forced myself to get out of bed because in my head I would tell myself, you know they can’t feed themselves, so you have to get up.

RELATED: The Day She Dies

Here I was in my 20s with nothing, alone, and wondering why this all happened. I had this plan to be a marine biologist. I had an application to apply for an internship in my hands when she died. My mom and I were two peas in a pod. So for most of my life, it was just my mom and me. We always talked about my dream of being a marine biologist. How could I survive without the deepest love I had ever known?

I was terrified and broken but there came a moment in those early days that I knew if I didn’t start putting myself together, I would die.

I felt in the depths of my soul that I would cease to exist from my sadness. So, that day I picked myself up off the floor, literally and figuratively, and decided I wanted to live

How do you put yourself together when the person who helped put you together in the past is gone?

RELATED: Only a Motherless Daughter Knows

I had to take what I learned from her, and with the help of my friends and some family, I learned to keep going. They fed me, they cared for me, and even took me on a roller coaster to specifically let out my pain. I survived because of my will to live, the love of a lost mother, and the hope provided to me by loved ones. 

The loss of a loved one is forever learning to move forward within your grief.

I miss my entire family in ways I can never fully express. But I got a phone call that would change my life forever, it was to volunteer with my local organ recovery agency to tell my story. My mom was an organ donor when she died. That experience led me to working with other families who had lost their loved ones, to being a person who would ask a grieving family to donate, and now to working in hospice.

Twenty years later, I tell people that losing my mother brought me here to helping others in their grief. During my free time, I create legacy work for the lost loved ones of my friends and family. I work hard at honoring their loved ones by making shadow boxes, sound waves of their voices, and so many other things to help keep their memory alive. 

Do I miss my mother? In every single breath I take. But her loss gave me so much of myself.

I tell people the loss of my mother was the best and worst experience of my life. Worst because I lost the kindest, funniest, most gentle person I have ever known. Best because it brought me this life and an opportunity to support people in their grief and to extend the love I had with my mom to others.

RELATED: I Am the Keeper of My Mother’s Legacy

My mother lives in me—her spirit, her goodness, all of it. I can now share all of it in ways she never imagined. Do I wish I was that marine biologist? Some days, but I know I am right where I am meant to be. If we let it, grief and loss can take us to places we never expected. If we look hard enough we will see our loved ones within all of those places.

Josie Flores

Josie Flores is a Manager of Volunteer Services in Hospice. Her passion is creating and help others on their grief journey. Josie has taken her grief and loss to unexpected places where she is able to help others honor the legacies of their loved ones.