Outliving One's Offspring
When parents outlive their offspring
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(permanent link) added: 2013-07-15 15:15:05 sponsor: ForgottenJedi (last reply: 2013-07-18 14:27:20)

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"No parent should have to bury their child."
--Théoden, The Lord of the Rings

A parents worst Adult Fear is realized: they have outlived their children. Whether it is from disease, murder, war, an accident, etc., their children are all dead and buried. At this point, the parents can fall into a deep depression or seek Revenge on whoever caused this situation. If they are lucky, they will have their spouse to help them through this situation, but often they will be all alone to deal with their grief.

An even worse version of this trope can occur if the parent is immortal or The Ageless and cannot pass their immortality onto their offspring. While they may have several generations of children, grandchildren, etc. they will be cursed with knowing they will outlive them all. This may cause them to chose not to have children to avoid this pain.

The inversion of this trope is Offing the Offspring, where the parent deliberately outlives their offspring by killing them.

As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

Animated Films
  • This is revealed to be part of Manny's backstory in Ice Age. His wife and child were killed by cavemen hunters, and why he's become so bitter and cynical.
  • Doesn't happen in Finding Nemo, but Marlin thinks it has for a while causing him to have a Heroic BSOD.

Anime & Manga
  • Code Geass: During Shirley's funeral, her mother is seen crying over her grave. Easily one of the series' saddest moments, especially considering said mother had been widowed a year earlier.

Comics
  • One Elfquest story recalls the life of an elf-adopted human child called Little Patch from infancy to his death of old age. Shuna, another human, was later adopted by the elves as well, although she's still alive in the current storyline, one can surmise that the long-lived elves will outlive her with ease.
  • The Punisher takes the revenge aspect of this trope and runs with it, with the death of his children and wife serving as his motive to kill all criminals.

Film
  • The page quote comes from The Lord of the Rings, where Théoden learns his only son has died while he had been brainwashed by his Evil Chancellor. He breaks down crying in front of his sons grave due to his grief.
  • The Highlander suffers from this, being practically immortal- adopted children in his case, but his children nevertheless.
  • Averting this is the main plot of Saving Private Ryan, bringing home a family's last son after his three brothers have been killed in action.
  • In Stargate Col. Jack O'Neil's son was playing with his father's gun and accidentally shot himself. O'Neil has a breakdown and becomes suicidal. The Air Force then recruits him to lead the mission through the Stargate on the understanding that it might be a Suicide Mission.

Literature
  • Happens several times in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • Mors "Crowfood" Umber lost his two sons at the Battle of the Trident fifteen years before the series began, while his only daughter was kidnapped by a wildling several years later and has never been seen since. This has given him an everlasting hatred of all wildlings.
    • Lady Donella Hornwood loses both her husband and her only son to the War of the Five Kings.
    • Ser Davos Seaworth loses his four eldest out of seven sons at the Battle of the Blackwater. He is crushed by their loss and extremely tempted to just go home, forget about the war, and spend the rest of his life with his wife and remaining three sons, but decides to stick with Stannis Baratheon out of loyalty. He is somewhat comforted by the fact that at least his two youngest sons are at home and away from the fighting.
      • In the television adaption, Davos has only one son, Matthos, and he dies at the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
    • Lord Rodrik Harlaw lost his two sons during Balon Greyjoy's first rebellion, which makes him opposed to the new one that Balon begins during the War of the Five Kings.
    • Rodrik's sister and Balon's wife Alannys also suffers from this, losing her two eldest sons in the rebellion and her third son Theon is taken as a ward/hostage to Winterfell. She only has her daughter Asha left to comfort her, but goes mad with grief, looking desperately all over the castle for her deceased sons. She eventually isolates herself in the Widow's Tower on the island of Harlaw.
  • The elves in the Labyrinths of Echo series are The Ageless but their offspring with other races (mainly humans) are not, resulting in the permanently youthful elven parents having to bury their non-elven children, grandchildren, and so on. This was the original reason why the elves built Kharumba, a city whose inhabitants also become ageless regardless of their species, in an effort to avert this trope.
  • Kerchak and Kala's biological son is killed by Sabor at the beginning of Tarzan. Inverted with Tarzan's biological parents and Tarzan himself.
  • Played with in the backstory of the Iron Druid Chronicles. Sometime during the Middle Ages, the immortal druid Atticus O'Sullivan settled down in Africa, married and had children. He managed to avert this trope by providing his wife and children with a limited version of his own immortality. His children and their children became the immortal elite of a new nation. However, after a few centuries, his wife died in a way that his magic could not prevent and he decided that it was a time to move on. He was sorry that his children would die but as a druid he felt that he has subverted nature for too long and that his descendants started to abuse their immortality. It is implied that most of the older generations of his descendants killed themselves rather than face old age.

Live-Action Television
  • Occurred several times in Six Feet Under, and the deceased were babies, young children, teenagers or adults, often due to illnesses or horrible accidents. Sometimes it was a funeral of the week, but at times a main character. Brenda Chenowith points out that this situation is so unspeakably awful that there isn't even a word for it in the English language: a person losing their spouse is a widow/widower and a child loosing parents is an orphan, but a person losing a child doesn't even have a name.
  • The story arc that spanned the final two seasons of Seinfeld, where at one point, Susan Ross's parents bring up what a tragedy it is when parents outlive their children.
  • In Torchwood: Children of Earth Jack Harkness's daughter already looks older than him. And in the end Jack is forced to sacrifice his grandson to stop the 456.
  • In Copper Corcoran was serving as a soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War when he got the news back in New York his daughter was found dead and his wife went missing. When the series starts he is a New York City police detective and is still desperately searching for answers about what really happened. He also becomes obsessively protective of Annie, a homeless girl he rescues from pedophiles.

Theater

Video Games
  • In Lost Odyssey, this has happened several times to the immortal characters, particularly Kaim Argonar and Sarah Sisulart. At the end of disc one, you find their daughter dying, but Kaim is able to say goodbye to her and become the guardian of his grandchildren, Mack and Cooke.
  • This is one of the worst possible endings in Persona 4, where Nanako is killed. Dojima is forced to move on with his life after losing the only family he had left.
  • Final Fantasy VI: Cyan Garamonde loses his wife and son when Doma Castle is poisoned. The last he sees of them is his son's spirit saying goodbye on the Ghost Train.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the wife and son of Fergus Cousland, older brother of the Human Noble Warden, are killed during Arl Howe's coup in the prologue. If you are playing as a Human Noble, you get to deliver the news. Worse yet, Fergus and Human Noble's parents only die in the end of the prologue, so they technically outlive their own grandson.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender, before the start of the series, Iroh's son, Lu Ten, died in the siege for Ba Sing Se. Iroh took his death pretty hard that he abandoned the siege and retired from being general.
  • Inverted in the episode of The Simpsons "The Very Reason That I Live."
    Bart: Dad, I'm really glad you're still alive.
    Homer: Yeah, it's every parent's dream to outlive their children. Good night, son.

Real Life
  • This is a big deal in China due to the one-child policy. Parents who have lost their only child are referred to as "shidu" families.
  • The "Real Prosperity" Zen Koan:
    A rich man asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from generation to generation.
    Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies."
    The rich man became angry. "I asked you to write something for the happiness of my family! Why do you make such a joke as this?"
    "No joke is intended," explained Sengai. "If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be broken-hearted. If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life. I call this real prosperity."
  • A joke:
    An elderly couple walks into the office of a divorce lawyer. "We want a divorce," they tell him.
    Taken aback the lawyer asks them how old they are. "I'm 87 and he's 92," the wife replies.
    "How long have you been married?" asks the lawyer. "65 years!" is the reply.
    "So why now do you want a divorce?" asks the lawyer.
    "We wanted to wait until all the kids were dead."
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