Featured Image Credit: Eternal Reefs
By Emily Persico
John Flowers was just 20 years old when he found out he was dying, yet he was determined not to leave this world without making an impact. It is now nearly a year since young Flowers has passed. His body lingers along with his memory, furthering the study of his condition and providing essential habitat for marine animals.
Flowers was a Florida native, raised by the ocean’s cool breeze and lulling waves. He found his passion beneath its waters, which he learned to dive in when he was just six years old. His passion for the ocean came crashing to the shore in 2014 when, a freshman at the University of West Florida studying Marine Biology, Flowers discovered that cancer had burrowed its way into his brain.
“I took him to the eye doctor, thinking we were going in for glasses,” recounted his mother, Phyliss. “But we were sent to the hospital for an MRI, where they found an inoperable brain cancer.”
Flowers’ death sentence came a year later. Doctors had done everything they could, and it was time for Flowers and his family to start planning for his death.
“He had been to his grandparents’ funerals, and he said he just didn’t want his own to be sad,” explained Phyliss. “That’s why we wanted to be part of the Eternal Reef.”
Located in the Gulf of Mexico, the Eternal Reef is a beautiful, underwater graveyard that uses hundreds concrete reef balls to create habitat for marine animals. Each reef ball is made up of a special concrete mixture and cremation ashes.
Flowers’ brain and spine was donated to the research of his condition, while the two-thirds of his ashes were divided among significant dive sites in Florida. The rest of his ashes went into the making of a reef ball, along with an amalgamation of mementos from his life, including his first dive knife, dinosaur teeth, and his dog tags.
“The crew helped to hold a lovely service on the boat,” his mother said.
Phyliss was touched by the service, so much so that she decided that she too would someday give her ashes to the project.
“You look out at the water and you realize that your dead loved ones are giving a gift back, which makes you feel happy,” she said. “It’s beautiful, and that brings me comfort.”
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