Outliving One's Offspring
"No parent should have to bury their child."
A parent's 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 (provided they can actually have children
). 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.
Very much Truth in Television
. This can happen if someone dies an unnatural death (such as in an accident or due to disease), or if a parent lives particularly long (it's quite common for people over 100 to have outlived at least one of their children). However, unlike in fiction, in real life it is accepted as a fact of life no matter how depressing the situation is.
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.
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Anime And Manga
- Code Geass: During Shirley's funeral, her mother is seen crying over Shirley's grave. Easily one of the series' saddest moments, especially considering that said mother had been widowed a year earlier.
- Lordgenome of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fame is quite accustomed to it. Nia is not the first child he conceived and outlasted during his long reign.
- 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 - Animated
- This is revealed to be part of Manny's backstory in Ice Age. His wife and child were killed by cavemen hunters, and that's why he's become so bitter and cynical.
- In Finding Nemo, Nemo is Marlin's only surviving child out of thousands. Also, Marlin thinks, and even though he survives the movie, for a while that he hasn't, causing him to have a Heroic BSOD.
Film - Live-Action
- 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 son's grave due to his grief. It's made all the sadder in that the line was something the actor had once been told by a mother who had lost her child.
- 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.
- Allan Quartermain's motivation for reclusiveness in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He took his son on his last mission, and he died in his arms.
- The Lord of the Rings:
- This is why Elrond is so against Aragorn and Arwen's marriage. His refusal to reconcile results in a permanent rift between he and Arwen and they part in anger. The film changes this to a happier send-off where he gives her away.
- Théoden loses his son Théodred while he is influenced and enfeebled by his Evil Chancellor.
- An occupational hazard for some in the Deryni novels by Katherine Kurtz:
- Camber MacRorie outlives his eldest son Cathan and his grandson Davin, both of whom die violently, the latter while Camber helplessly watches via a psychic link.
- This is King Donal Haldane's recurring problem. All the offspring of his first marriage are either stillborn or die in early infancy. After his first wife dies, he remarries a younger woman to ensure the succession, but two of his four legitimate sons die in childhood, as well as the illegitimate son he sires to be an arcane protector for his heir in In the King's Service; second son Blaine saves his sister from drowning but contracts pneumonia, and youngest son Jatham suffers fatal injuries in a riding accident. The death of his youngest son hastens Donal's own demise in Childe Morgan, but time was not on Donal's side to begin with.
- 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.
- Catelyn Stark believes that she has outlived (for a given definition of "live") most if not all of her children by the end of the third book.
- Cersei Lannister has spent most of her life fearing a prophecy stating that, among other things, all of her children will be crowned and die with gold shrouds. She has interpreted this to mean that she will outlive all of her children. She's already seen Joffrey die painfully from poison right in front of her eyes, and she later has a breakdown when she thinks Tommen has been poisoned as well.
- 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.
- Gods and Generals: Joshua and Fanny Chamberlain had three children die in infancy. "Stonewall" Jackson lost a young daughter and later a young girl he had quasi-adopted at the front. General Longstreet lost three children to scarlet fever, which haunts him further in The Killer Angels.
- It's the fear of this trope that makes Katniss Everdeen swear off the idea of having children.
- Blunted Lance by Max Hennessy, the middle book of the Goff family trilogy. Retired Field Marshall Goff survives various 19th century wars to see the end of the Great War, only to get a telegram that his son had died of injuries received in the final attack of the war. The shock kills him (fortunately his grandson is still alive to carry on the tradition in book 3).
- Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell. Diabolical Mastermind Elliot thinks this in a moment of guilt after almost all the orphans he's raised under the pretense of being his surrogate sons die in the service of his schemes.
Live Action Television
- 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.
- Dragon Age II starts with the Hawke family on the run from the first game's Blight. One of twin siblings Bethany and Carver dies (depending on the main character's class), and their mother spends years recovering from it. If you take the surviving sibling into the Deep Roads without Anders, you'll have to break the news of their death to her as well.
- In the prologue of The Last of Us, Joel's daughter Sarah is killed by a soldier ordered to shoot them. The experience (as well as two decades of surviving the zombie apocalypse has hardened him into a rather bitter and cynical person by the start of the game.
- 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 Simpsons episode "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.
- Spoofed in "Homer's Triple Bypass" when the family is saying their goodbyes to Homer in case he doesn't survive his surgery.
Abe: They say the greatest tragedy is when a father outlives his son. I have never fully understood why. Frankly, I can see an up-side to it!
- 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. "Sixty-five 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."
- François Joseph Lefebvre, one of Napoleon's Marshals, had fourteen kids. Only the eldest lived past his twenties, and he died during the Russian campaign while fighting under his father's orders.