Stages of Emotional Development & Age of Loss: 20’s

By: Mary Ellen Collins

“I felt like a ship set adrift, lost, without a way to steer and I could not see land.”

This is a common theme with women who experience mother loss in their 20’s. Women who experience mother loss at this age are often the most overlooked and misunderstood daughters. Society views these women as adults, but we have to remember that most of them are really still trying to figure out who they are. Many times they are starting on careers, finishing college, and just getting started in the adult world. When this is interrupted by the loss of a mother, their ship gets “mayday calls” and can be capsized by the waves of grief washing over them.

While it is important to separate and create their own identity, they still need a secure base to separate successfully. Being able to just touch home base with the nurturing support of a mother is critical. The 20’s woman may not stay long at home base; she may just need to touch it and continue on her journey. This slight touch gives her the courage to continue. In the 20’s, mother loss can set the ship adrift and it just rides the waves of grief. There is no home base. Loss takes that away.

The 20’s woman reaction may be to hunker down and hold on for the ride, being tossed and turned. She may become emotionally paralyzed. Her world has turned upside down. Even when there is a brief reprieve, she still cannot see land. It is gone. There is no safe harbor.

Some have had to abandon their hopes and dreams to take care of things that the mother had done before.

Susan was in her last semester of college when she witnessed her mother take her final breath. She had not known how serious her mother’s cancer was. The truth was hidden from her. She returned to college and put on a mask to hide her grief. She finished college but had to put her dreams on hold to help with the family business. This woman today is still searching for her identity and where she fits in the world.”

Another woman struggled with an ill mother as she was growing up, but her worst nightmare happened to her when she was approaching her upcoming marriage. Her mother died two weeks before her wedding. Today, this woman still wrestles with the mixed feelings related to her mother loss.

“My mother died two weeks before my wedding. This was supposed to be the happiest day in my life. No one talked with me about her death. It was just as if she was never part of the planning. I had to decide whether to cry or smile.” 

If mother loss comes on the tides of a difficult relationship and separation, guilt for what could have been takes over.  The 20’s woman is left out of a relationship she may see as her fault. As an adult, she often feels a range of emotion from guilt to rage.

“We just started getting along. I was a difficult teenager and now she is gone. I have lost my chance to make amends.  My guilt is huge.” 

Another woman commented, “I am so angry. When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it was too late. She was stage 4. She did not take care of herself. Wasn’t I worth it? Then I had to take on doing the things she had done and taking care of my siblings.” 

“I have so much to know. Who is going to be there to answer my questions? I have an overwhelming fear about who is going to help me figure this out?”

 If you have experienced mother loss in your 20’s do you relate to any of these examples? Share your stories. How does this play out in your adult life?


Check out our blog articles related to the Stages of Emotional Development and Mother Loss

18 replies on “Stages of Emotional Development & Age of Loss: 20’s”

I lost my mother 4/16/16 — Just about one month ago now. I’m 28 years old, but far from being on the path to finding myself. I share all of the emotions mentioned in the article — My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer February 4th, 2016. She was gone two months later, and we never realized how sick she really was… Until it was way too late. I too was a difficult child, even at this age, my mother and I would argue, mostly at the fault of mine. I never got to truly make amends. I feel tremendous guilt, so overwhelming, it makes it hard to breathe. I feel lost. Who is going to help me? Guide me? What if I get married or have another child, what about the child I already have who know doesn’t have her nana? What about my siblings? I’ve already had to start taking care of my younger brother, usually something she would do, and I’m bitter about that. But mostly, I’m devastated that I didn’t show her I cared more. I am still in shock and completely lost. It’s like my “plans”, my “life”, my “world” just disappeared. All I see is white, I can’t see land, or a path, or the sky. I can’t see anything anymore.

My heart breaks for you as I read what you wrote. I know you are scared. And I know you feel guilty. The guilt can be paralyzing. Guilt is something we wear when we feel responsible. Is this what you are feeling? Responsibility for her death? While it may not be in your consciousness, it appears to be haunting you. It is never too late to say I am sorry. You do not have her alive to tell her but you can still write this to her. You can write her a letter telling her all the things you are sorry for. This will take HUGE courage. You must read your letter to someone. Then you have to forgive yourself. That is the next big step in healing.
There will be many women who will surround you and walk with you. We are here, you just need to ask. Praying for you.

When I lost my mom, in her 40’s, I was in total disbelief. She died of breast cancer, with a second recurrence. She delayed treatment, due to my first pregnancy, with her first cancer treatments. She did this out of pure love, but the guilt I was left with….was horrible for me. The “what if’s”…..were always on my mind. (maybe earlier treatment would have saved her) My friends didn’t understand my loss, because they hadn’t experience it. My biggest regret was not allowing myself to accept her death beforehand, saying thanks for being my best friend, and not knowing my daughters are successful, and she is remembered in so many wonderful ways. I’m now in my 60’s, am so thankful I was given the privilege of seeing my daughters grow up, and become a grandmother. Always had the fear I wouldn’t see them grow up~I try to reach out to young daughters, losing their mothers at a young age, because it’s a loss I do understand. I have recommended this site, and your book, to everyone I know dealing with this loss. Thank you for helping so many grieving women.

Marsha, it sounds like your mother was pretty young when she died. As hard as it is to understand, it was her decision to delay her treatment. You have played the “what if” game with yourself which always brings along the bondage of guilt and shame. Guilt because you imagine that you may have had the opportunity and control to save her life. Shame because no one understood your loss, or had not had a loss in their life to grieve. She may have just wanted the joy of seeing her grandchild without having all of the complications from treatment? As a mother and grandmother, you have greater understanding and insight. It is admirable that you reach out to other motherless daughters. Thank you for doing this and just know, you are not alone. We are right here. We will help you or any women you recommend to us.

I lost my mom when I was 25. She was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks before I found out I was pregnant with my fist child at 20. She fought beautifully and was in remission by the time my son was born. The cancer then spread to her spine and skull and she fought even harder but the treatment took to much out of her. And she passed away a week before Christmas and five months after the birth of my second child. I have never been the best at keeping in touch as often as I should and that is guilt I live with all the time. The only thing I have to hold on to it that I saw her a few days before she passed. My daughter will never know how much like my mom she is. Her smile and love of the same thing as my mom is uncanny.

Guilt eats us up. We do not give ourselves grace and forgive ourselves for the things we think we did or did not do. You did the best you could have done at the time. And you will need to share with your daughter the things that connect her to your mom. If you are a writer, begin a journal or a letter to your daughter and tell her stories. If you are not a writer begin to record the things you want her to know about your mother. Always know, we are right here. An email or a click away. Just reach out when you need us.

I lost my mom when I was 23. She was 50. That morning I saw her before I went to my job. She was laying down on her bed. She said she loved me and gave me her blessing. I said, love you too.. see you later on. My dad called me a couple hours after that, she had a heart attack. Totally unexpected. He didn’t knew what to do. Im cpr certified. Why it had to happened when I wasn’t home? I could’ve done something… i keep on trying to call her whenever something happens. It feels like no one else cares for me. Dad found a girlfriend and that’s all he cares for. So it’s only me, my grief and I. I feel lost. I feel like a little girl needing mom.

Marianna, it sounds like you blame yourself. You are doing to yourself what any person does with sudden loss, play the “what if” game. What if I had been there, I could have saved her. What if . . . What if . . . What if . . . Even if you were there, you may not have been able to change the outcome for your mother’s death. That is the hardest part of the loss, realizing you are powerless with the outcome. What you do have power over is to manage your grief. You are not alone. The Motherless Daughters Ministry is just a call or click away. Reach out to us. Let us support you. It is ok to feel like a little girl needing her mom. That is pretty normal. Is there any type of grief counseling or support groups in your area? It is always helpful to just talk about it with others who share your experience. I would encourage you to look into the Journey Retreat, we offer every year. Go here for more details Go here for more details:
and always know we are right here and will walk with you.

I’m 24 I lost my mom 10/08/17 she was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2016 she when through chemotherapy radiation and had her whole stomach removed but in February 2017 doctors said she had no more cancer but in May it returned and it was terminal cancer for 6 months my mom was in and out of the hospital my sisters and I took care of her at the hospital she was never alone the day she past away me and my dad saw her take her last breath it’s been so hard losing my mom my sisters are 13 years older then me my mom watched them get married had there first child . It makes my heart ache know she wont be at my wedding day she wont see my first child be born or see me finish school …I’m lost and it’s been the hardest 2 years of my life without her I feel lonely and confused . I’ve been also dealing with my depression and it’s been hard not being able to pick up my phone and just call her, I wish i could do that one more time and hug her too.

Kenia, I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. It sounds like she was a anchor for you and now it feels as if you are just drifting. The hardest thing about loss is that the only way to manage it is to grieve. Be still, cry, yell, cuss (if you do that), be angry, have a pity party. If you write, create letters that speak to your grief. If you are not a writer, then just use your cell to make recordings. Speak in to it. Talk to you mom. Tell her all the things you want to say. Then go back and read or listen to what you have created a month or so later. Talking with a grief counselor is something many woman choose to do. Not sure where you are located but there are grief groups associated with Hospices. And, the Motherless Daughters Ministry is always here for you. You are not alone. We are a click aways. Reach out to us. IM us. We will support you in your grief journey. Just check us out at

My boat is once a again drifting looking to touch base with land. I’ll be 44 this month outliving my mother by 2 years she was 42 when she died. I’m going through a divorce after 21 years in a relationship with the man the entered my life just after my mother died. I find myself longing for her advice, guidance just touch base of encouragement. While I have filled my life with kind, caring, wonderful woman. Their advice & guidance comes from a place of friendship & not the same truthful honest place a mother’s guidance comes from. They sometimes withhold the truth as to spare my feelings, or the encouragement feels empty & false. My strength to endure never leaves me, this too shall pass, this is just one of those major life moments I wish mom was around. Part of me feels 22 again experiencing the loss all over again. Motherless Daughters Ministry was a huge part of my healing, wish I lived closer so I could get the continued support during this next chapter of my journey. God Bless the work of this Ministry & the lives it touches.

Oh Amanda, I know your boat has been rocky for a long time. I am sorry to hear the heartache in your words. You are going through a significant loss right now and that will always trigger you back to your mother loss. It is normal. You are normal. Don’t know where you are now, but I want you to know we are only an email, a text, or a click away. We do have online programming you may want to explore. Go to for more information. Always feel free to reach out. I have such fond memories of you.

Loss is always shocking and especially at your young age. I am so sorry for your loss. At 22 your life is just beginning as an adult and yet you need to be able to have some anchors just to know they are there. Are there any other women in your life who can nurture you? Notice I did not say mother you. There was only one mother but now you have to find a village of women to step in and support you in different ways. Always know we are always here for you. We are a click, a text, or an email away. Reaching out may be your first best step.

I lost my mom when I was 27. Just 3 months after my only son was born. I prayed that my mom would at least live long enough to meet one of my children. And now I wish I prayed for more time. 3 months being a new mom without a mom was not enough time. I got married at the age of 24. She was already sick. I don’t remember a single time in my adulthood where I was able to go get lunch with my mom. Lunch or coffee dates with her meant bringing it to her bedside. While I am grateful for all the time I had with her even next to her in bed, I still hurt when I think about what we could have had. Had she not been sick. I had a hard pregnancy, I had a hard delivery, and trauma from my emergency c section. My son was also not breathing when he was born which meant days in the NICU. We were in and out of the hospital for the first three months of my sons life and my mom went into a hospice home where she passed away. It will be 3 years next month and I still ache thinking about her not here with me. It’s taken me to a dark place. Grieving has made me hurt more than I could have ever imagined. I absolutely struggle with being a mom without a mom. I wish every single day that I could call her. It would make my world just a little bit better. Miss her dearly.

Oh my. I feel your pain through your words. I am so sorry that you hurt so bad. And that you went through all that you did. You are strong. You are a survivor. The world was gifted with your mother and now you and your son are her gift to carry on. Grief is such an ugly monster. And the only way you get through it is to look it in the eye. Cry, cry, cry. But it will not get you. It will appear at the most surprising time. Just look at it. Do not run from it. But do not stay there either. You can do this. You are strong. You are not alone. Just reach out when you need us. Go to our facebook page. You have over 9000 sisters who will walk with you.

I was 27 when my mom died, I was sitting by her side and watched her taking her last breath.
She was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer that came out of nowhere. Looking back there were signs but we passed them off as stomach bugs as anyone would and I’m not blaming myself for it.
I’m a paramedic so I knew what would happen from the start, knew the outcome and tried to prepare for it.
I was caring for her for six month with my sister, while still studying at University. I needed something to keep me busy and I wrote most of the finals that summer.
I was there the last night, I talked to her, calmed her down and listened anxiously to her breathing. She died in the morning with my sister and me by her side, it’s my worst memory and I still struggle with it. I have flashbacks of that night, that moment, the waiting and knowing that it happens but I would do it again. I loved and love her so much and her being the only parent I had made it even more traumatic for me.
I felt homeless, without a base, without anything, lost in the universe and I still do sometimes. I felt lost because she won‘t see me graduate and won‘t get to be there for so many things that I haven’t been able to share with her.
It‘s a little over a year and noticing that I sometimes almost forget (getting used to the new reality) is the worst and brings me right back.

Lu, I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. It is absolutely normal when you are in the health care field to think you shoulda’, coulda’ known or done something, We always look backward and bear the guilt for not seeing what is so clear in hindsight. Being with your mom when she took her last breath is an image etched in your mind. It was a gift to be with here at the end. As a young woman with mother loss in your 20s, you have described perfectly what it feels like. My words are like a ship floating adrift without an anchor. And yes, she will not be there physically as you go through life but she will always be with you in your heart. What I really wish is that you could attend our Journey Residential Retreat. There are others who have similar stories as yours. Always know we are a click, a phone call away.

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