The worst thing that can happen to a mom happened twice to Carol Gaxiola.

Two daughters, her only children, each were 14 when they died five years apart of different causes.

Her firstborn, Anna, succumbed to a brain tumor. Her baby, Jasmin, was murdered while still mourning her big sister's death.

Ever since, Gaxiola, 58, has been helping others learn to survive tragic loss.

She's a guest speaker on grief at the University of Arizona and at local schools. She volunteered for years at Tu Nidito, a charity that helps grieving children - the same agency where Jasmin was attending a support group before she died.

Gaxiola also has donated countless hours to Homicide Survivors, which aids families of murder victims and which hired her last year as executive director.

Families often feel bereft and bewildered when a loved one is murdered, Gaxiola says. It helps when someone else knows what they're going through.

"I feel honored when I can be that hand reaching out to support them. People know when you understand. They can see it."

The first child Gaxiola buried was a mischievous daredevil. At 11, Anna was caught driving a motorcycle around her neighborhood.

When she died, Gaxiola's world began to revolve around her surviving daughter, a friendly child who loved dolphins and fashion.

Five years later, when Jasmin was shot to death, her mother remembers "falling into a black hole."

"Basically everything was gone in my life. My whole future was focused on Jasmin and and it was gone in the blink of an eye."

Investigators believe Jasmin was slain because she witnessed a drive-by shooting. Two young men who killed her were sentenced to life in prison.

To get through the day, Gaxiola started reading books about grief and loss and forgiveness. Each story of someone who'd survived trauma gave her hope that she might find meaning again, too.

To her surprise, she discovered the power of the kindness of strangers. Tucsonans who'd heard about the murder on the news - people she'd never met - mailed her inspirational books, sympathy cards and chocolates.

"That was very meaningful to me," she says.

By helping others handle their heartaches, Gaxiola has the feeling she's making her girls proud.

"I'm still a mom," she says.

"I believe one day I'll be reunited with my children and I need to be someone they can respect."

- Carol Ann Alaimo