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


  1. Reply
    AmandaLynn says

    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.

  2. Reply
    Mary Ellen Collins says

    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.

  3. Reply
    Marsha D says

    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.

    • Reply
      Mary Ellen says

      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.

  4. Reply
    Laniwolfe says

    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.

  5. Reply
    Mary Ellen says

    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.

  6. Reply
    Mariana says

    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.

    • Reply
      Mary Ellen Collins says

      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: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07efjqhh8fafea0fc7&llr=rr7gtprab
      and always know we are right here and will walk with you.

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