Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Ecology

Major Professor

Priscilla Blanton

Committee Members

Julia Malia, Sharon Judge, Patricia Droppleman


The death of a mother can be devastating to a child. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore the experience of early maternal loss for adult women who were younger than 4 years old when their mothers died. This study focused on the phenomenon as it was perceived by these women and how the loss has impacted their lives across time. The theoretical frameworks used to guide this study were attachment theory, symbolic interaction theory and family stress midrange theory, and risk and resilience midrange theory. An adult women who has grown up without a mother indeed may have attachment insecurity. There is empirical evidence to support the assertion that attachment insecurity can lead to adult outcomes such as depression, alcoholism, and other psychopathological responses. For this study, a sample of 8 women was interviewed for approximately 2 hours each using intensive, interactive interviewing. Their words provided the data that informed this study. The themes that emerged as the most significant from these interviews were the presence of another female attachment substitute, fathering, religious beliefs, and memories of mothers. Most significant was the presence or absence of another woman who could step into the role left vacant by the death. If this woman provided loving and nurturing care for the young girl, grieving and suffering were short-lived. However, if she did not provide love and warmth, if she was abusive, or if there was no alternate attachment figure available, there were possibly ongoing deleterious results.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."