Outliving One's Offspring

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

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 choose not to have children to avoid this pain. A Supernaturally Young Parent can easily be accompanied by this trope.

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), and far too frequently during times of war when the offspring is old enough to fight. However, unlike in fiction, in real life it is accepted as a fact of life no matter how depressing the situation is.

The invocation 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:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day has Meiko "Menma" Honma's parents, specially her mother Irene who pretty much locks herself at home and barely pays attention to her remaining child Satoshi.
  • Astro Boy starts with the death of Dr. Tenma's son. He created Astro as a Replacement Goldfish, but later abandoned him because he wasn't exactly like his son.
  • CLANNAD:
  • 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.
    • Aparently, one of the women sitting close to Prince Clovis's casket during his funeral is his mother Gabrielle.
  • Many, many of the sympathetic murderers in Detective Conan are mothers and fathers who kill the persons who directly or indirectly caused the death of their children.
  • Death Parade:
    • Character Of The Day Yousuke committed suicide in his mid twenties, leaving his step-mother and father. He feels guilt striken about this and can't believe he committed suicide.
    • The amnesiac protagonist of the series, Chiyuki, killed herself after she could no longer ice-skate due to a knee fracture. In the final episode where she visits her mother, who is mourning Chiyuki's death three months later. Overcome by her mother's tears, Chiyuki breaks down and regrets her decision, which causes Decim to cry. It turns out the whole scene was an illusion created by him to help judge her soul and he feels bad about lying to her.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta winds up losing his son, Trunks, twice. First, after Trunks from the future was murdered by Cell, and second when Kid Buu destroyed the Earth. (Taking Goten, Gohan, and Piccolo with it, additionally effecting Goku since the former two are his sons.) It hits harder watching this happen to Vegeta since we see his genuine response in witnessing Trunks's death both times. Going ballistic, futily attacking Cell despite him being much stronger than Vegeta, and chewing out Goku for opting to save Hercule and Dende over their children instead. Though to be fair, Vegeta was dead himself when the younger Trunks died. And he'd already died once before Trunks had even been conceived.
  • The twist in the short manga Forever Honey is that the daughter had been killed in a car crash and what the reafer had been seeing was her ghost.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist this happens to a few people:
    • Pinako Rockbell's only son and daughter-in-law, Yuriy and Sara, were killed during the Ishvalan conflict, leaving her to raise her granddaughter Winry alone.
    • Sig and Izumi Curtis lost their only child at his birth. That's what led a desperate Izumi to break the taboo and try the forbidden human transmutation, contrasting with the Elrics who did the same thing to recreate their Missing Mom.
    • General Grumman outlived his daughter, Riza Hawkeye's unnamed mother, although this relationship is confirmed only in supplemental material.
    • In the anime Envy was created when Hohenheim and Dante tried to revive their son.
  • In Jojos Bizarre Adventure, Erina Pendleton-Joestar outlived her son George when he was murdered by one of Dio's last zombies at a young age. For a little while near the end of Part II, she believed that she outlived her grandson Joseph as well. It was fortunately averted with the comical reveal of Joseph's survival.
  • Precia Testarossa of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha outlives her daughter Alicia, but not Alicia's clone, Fate, whom Precia refuses to see as her offspring to the very end.
  • The catalyst for all the chaos of Shogun Tsunayoshi's latter reign in Ooku The Inner Chambers is the death of her only daughter and heir Matsu. Likewise, Shogun Ietsugu inherited the sickly nature of her mother, meaning her father Sakyo is in the unenviable position of seeing a successor to his own daughter take the throne. It's also mentioned that his son by his mother died of the Redface Pox some time after he entered Ienobu's household.
    • Ieharu's children all died before her, leaving her with no heir and another succession crisis.
    • Tanuma Okitomo is assassinated in front of her mother Okitsugu out of revenge for Okitsugu's unpopular policies and the series of natural disasters that were blamed on her. To make matters worse, the assassin is regarded as a saint by the people.
    • A number of Ienari's children fall ill and die. One of the mothers figures out that their grandmother Harusada is poisoning them and trying to pit the mothers against each other. The worst part? It's implied Harusada's doing this because she's bored.
  • Dr. Fuji from Pokémon: The First Movie (who is a reference to Dr. Tenma from Astro Boy) lost his young daughter, Amber, when she was hit by a car. He tried to clone her; however, the clone ended up dying, too.
  • 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.
  • Tokyo Magnitude 8.0:
    • Mari fears her four year old daughter and her mother have died due to the earthquake. In episode nine her fears seem to come to life, as supposedly they died in a fire, however it's shown later that both survived.
    • Yuuki's parents were not so lucky. Two of their kids left to see a robot exhibit but only one came back alive.
  • One Piece:
    • One of the worst acts of the World Government in the past is killing many newborns and kids under one year old in their search for the child of Gold D. Roger, meaning their parents outlived them.
    • In a grandparental version, Garp outlived his grandson Ace... who turned out to be the aforementioned child of Gold D. Roger, since Roger entrusted Garp with the still unborn Ace's safety.
    • The Dark and Troubled Past of Doflamingo's dubordinate Senor Pink was kickstarted when his and his wife Russian's son, Gimlet, died of illness when he wasn't at home.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • The relationship between Batman and Robin, Seduction of the Innocent aside, has always been a father-son one, and Bruce reacted in a highly similar fashion when Jason Todd was murdered by the Joker in the story Death in the Family, a point explicitly stated by Devin Grayson in in a retrospective Gotham Knights story.
    • This happens once more when Damian Wayne is killed by Talia in the New 52. Both Alfred, whom inadvertantly caused Damian's death by allowing him to leave the batcave when ordered not too and Bruce are crushed but they seem to be handling it about as well as can be expected. That is until Bruce finds a note from Damian telling him how he turned him into a hero and he loved him, sending him into a Berserker Rage and going through the 7 stages of grief that spans multiple comics. Alfred breaks when he enters a Virtual Reality Simulator and knocks Damian out to prevent him from leaving. He then tells him how proud he is and how he'll never forgive himself. He then exits the Simulator sobbing, not that anyone could blame him.
    • Alfred actually went through this twice when Bruce "died". When asked by Superman if he was alright he responded, "No sir, I am not. My son has died."
    • Alongside these, are one or two Alternate Universes in which Thomas Wayne becomes Batman after his son Bruce is killed by a mugger in Crime Alley. In one of those versions (being the Flashpoint AU), it also turns out that Martha Wayne became the Joker, having lost her sanity with her son's death.
  • 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.
  • Wolverine:
    • Wolverine was born in the mid-19th Century, and is still alive and kicking in the 21st thanks to his Healing Factor. It's seldom touched on, but he has had many children over his lifetime (most of them illegitimate). Those not born mutants sharing his healing factor are very likely to die of old age or disease while he lives on. One story arc features a villain invoking this trope in the cruelest way possible: He gathers as many of Logan's illegitimate offspring as he can find, trains them, and sends them after him, knowing that Logan will make short work of them. And then not telling him until after the deed is done. The resulting guilt of having slaughtered his own children, along with the participation of his "daughter"/Opposite-Sex Clone, X-23, in X-Force is later a major contributing factor to his side of Schism.
    • Played straighter in the case of his son, Daken: Logan's pregnant wife Itsu was murdered by Winter Soldier in 1946, leading Logan to believe his son died with her. It's not until the present day that Logan learned Daken actually survived due to inheriting his mutant healing factor, and lived much of the past 60 decades (or at least, what he could remember of it) believing his son was dead.

    Fan Works 
  • Bait and Switch (STO): Nalak Lang, the USS Bajor's answer to Guinan, is an elderly Cardassian who lived through the Dominion's attempt to exterminate his species in DS9: "What You Leave Behind". His first wife and his children didn't.
  • In Dead or Alive 4: The Devil Factor, side character Yuri dies after taking a fatal blow for Ayane. Yuri's older brother had perished during the Mugen Tenshin's assault on the DOATEC Tri-towers, and their father had died years before that. Yuri's mother, having lost her entire family, is rendered near-catatonic.
  • Throughout Gensokyo 20XX, Ran has outlived her children Yume and her siblings (first litter), Bi, Akira, Bunmei, Yume Ni, and Ikki (second litter), and An (third litter), along with having stillborns and the fact that An was Dead All Along.
  • Ladder:
    • The Professor loses all three of The Powerpuff Girls, and the original character Ashley, over the course of a year. This is ultimately subverted though as he attempts, and succeeds (technically), to revive them.
    • Princess is killed by a Serial Killer while having a sleepover with Bubbles. Her dad and Professor Utonium become friends due to understanding each others pain.
    • Blossom created Ashley so, as her father puts it, she's as much her mother as she is her older sister. Ashley ends up Driven to Suicide under two days after her creation.

    Films — Animation 
  • Shown in Anastasia, in which the Dowager Empress Marie outlives her son, Czar Nicholas, and four of his five children. Truth in Television — the real-life Dowager Empress was in Paris at the time of the Russian Revolution, and thus survived it.
  • In Finding Nemo, Nemo is Marlin's only surviving child out of hundreds. For some time later in the film, Marlin thinks Nemo is also dead, causing him to have a Heroic B.S.O.D..
  • 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 The Lion King II: Simba's Pride Nuka is killed by falling rocks trying to impress Zira. Zira blames Kovu for his brothers' death and banishes him from the pride. Zira herself ends up dying a few days later.
  • In The Secret of Kells, Abbot Cellach believes his orphaned nephew Brendan (who he has raised since Brendan was a baby) is killed in a Viking attack (and worse, that it's his fault). He spends twenty years in mourning before he learns Brendan survived and they are reunited.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Highlander: Connor Macleod suffers from this, being practically immortal — they're adopted children in his case, but his children nevertheless.
  • The hero of Interstellar time travels into the future by passing through a black hole. Being 125 years old (while looking 40-ish), he meets his now old daughter on her death bed. After a short talk, she sends him away so he wouldn't have to see her die.
  • In The Last of the Mohicans:
    • Chingachgook's son Uncas is killed in battle by Magua, making the father the titular "Last of the Mohicans."
    • In the novel the film is based on, Col. Munro outlives his elder daughter Cora.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Allan Quatermainn has long since retired from adventuring and become reclusive and apathetic, out of guilt for having raised his son on his tales, only for their own adventure to end with Allan watching his son die in his arms.
  • The Lord of the Rings: 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.
  • Hercules Hansen in Pacific Rim. After saving Chuck from Scissure's attack on Sydney as a young child, Herc later loses his 21-year-old son by Heroic Sacrifice and nuclear explosion in order to close the Breach. At that point, the Kaiju have officially taken Herc's entire family from him and it's likely that he'll continue to Ghost-Drift with his dead son for an unknown length of time.
  • 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 (Tyler) 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.
  • In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Kirk's son David is killed defending Saavik and Spock from Klingons. Kirk is shattered by his son's death and feels the loss keenly throughout the sequels. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, his grief fuels a deep hatred for Klingons which makes him unable to believe that the Klingon Chancellor really does want to make peace and is later used by The Mole to frame Kirk for the Chancellor's murder.
  • In Stockholm East, Anna and Anders' daughter Tove gets hit by a car and dies.
  • In WarCraft, Lothar's son is killed by Blackhand in front of Lothar, causing him to become unstable and rageful.

    Jokes 
  • 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."

    Literature 
  • 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).
  • A Brother's Price: Ten of the twenty princesses of the realm were killed in an explosion. And this is after their father was spared the fate of Outliving One's Offspring due to being poisoned prior to said explosion. The queens have to endure losing their husband and half of their daughters. Due to Exotic Extended Marriage, it is unclear who lost a daughter and who (technically) a niece, but as their society doesn't differentiate between the two, their feelings likely don't, either.
  • 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.
  • In the Codex Alera the First Lord of Alera Gaius Sextus and his first wife outlived their son, Septimus, and sole heir in a battle 15 years before the start of the series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Guild Hunter we have Jeffrey Deveraux, Elena's father, whose two eldest daughters, Mirabelle and Arielle, died at the hand of a psychopathic vampire.
    • Also Dmitri, whose children were killed by a psychopathic angel.
    • And more generally, what will happen to any vampire whose children will not be Made.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Amos Diggory's son Cedric is murdered by Wormtail in Goblet Of Fire.
    • Molly and Arthur Weasley outlive their son Fred, who's killed during the Battle of Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows.
  • Heidi goes to live with her grandfather, whose dead son was her father.
  • In The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield's younger sister Dís outlives both of her young sons, Fíli and Kíli. She is also the last surviving member of their immediate family and the direct line of Durin the Deathless.
  • It's the fear of this trope that makes Katniss Everdeen swear off the idea of having children. Her mother has to face this twice when Katniss is sent into the arena, and ultimately Prim dies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • This is why Elrond is so against Aragorn and Arwen's marriage; allowing her to marry a mortal means allowing her to give up her own immortality. He does accept it, however, with the provision that Aragorn reclaim his ancestral throne, and once that is accomplished Elrond escorts her to the wedding and bids them both a fond but sad farewell for the last time.
    • Théoden loses his son Théodred while he is influenced and enfeebled by his Evil Chancellor.
  • In some of the works of Jodi Picoult, such as My Sister's Keeper and Handle with Care, parents outlive their children. The parents are usually such selfish jerks that it's hard to sympathize with them. Sarah from My Sister's Keeper is especially self-centered. Her first thoughts when the younger daughter she's exploited for spare parts all her life dies in a car accident aren't about the child she lost; she's wondering what the word is for a parent who loses a child.
  • In The Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Osmond loses her infant child to an unspecified illness, and the novel ends with the death of Lydia Touchett's son Ralph.
  • This is one of the central themes of Reconstructing Amelia, with single mother Kate having to deal with the sudden death of her 15-year-old daughter under mysterious circumstances. Several times she brings up that due to her age she's unlikely to ever have another, either.
  • By the time of the Serpentwar Saga, Pug of Stardock had already outlived his wife by several decades. The casualties of that war included his son, his adoptive daughter, her husband, and their son. In the time skips between story arcs Pug would then go onto outlive one of his great-grandsons as well.
  • The protagonist of Sarny ends up living to 98 and outlives both her children.
  • 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. So far, only Robb is actually dead.
    • 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.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, it is mentioned that Verna used to have a daughter who died of old age decades ago. Verna lived in a Wizarding School under a spell that slows aging, and if a wizard or a sorceress there had a Muggle Born of Mages, he or she was given up for adoption.
  • Kerchak and Kala's biological son is killed by Sabor at the beginning of Tarzan. Inverted with Tarzan's biological parents and Tarzan himself.
  • In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett and Rhett are devastated by the death of their daughter Bonnie. This event also kills their marriage.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Howard Families novels/stories, Fridge Logic says this must have happened to Lazarus many times, and probably to his mother Maureen (as a result of her time travel). It's not discussed, though.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Stargate SG-1, the death of Jack O'Neill's son (Charlie) is occasionally mentioned, including one time when a crystal entity takes his form based upon his memories. After entering an alternate reality in Stargate Continuum, Daniel mentions Jack's son's death as one of the facts that proves that he knows him, only for Jack to furiously respond that Charlie is very much alive in that world. Jack is now less inclined to help them.
  • 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.
  • In Criminal Minds, two characters lost their children: David Rossi's son by his first wife died shortly after being born, while Alex Blake's son Ethan died of an unnamed neurological disease at age 9.
  • The Diagnosis: Murder TV movie "A Town without Pity" has Mark Sloan investigating the murder of his daughter.
    • Mark has also stated numerous times that he's afraid of this happening with his son Steve, given he is a cop.
  • Matthew's mother has a hard time accepting his death in Downton Abbey.
    Isobel: "Once your only child dies, you're not a parent anymore. You're not...much of anything, really."
  • In Everybody Loves Raymond, Marie's antics endanger her son Robert's chances of becoming a Federal agent. The Federal agent reviewing Robert's application figures out that she's doing it deliberately and confronts her. Marie tearfully explains that she's terrified that she might outlive Robert. She felt relieved when he retired from the police force and she doesn't want him to take another job where he would be expected to die in the line of duty.
  • Doctor Who has the Doctor, who adores kids and will go out of his way to help them - turns out he was a father once and all his kids and grandkids are dead (In New!Who at least- it's unclear whether they're alive in Classic Who). Even several centuries after losing them, he is incapable of telling even his closest friends about it. It's implied he's told Clara about them, though.
    • Gets worse when you remember Jenny, his artificially created daughter born after the Time War. At this point, he had already lost his previous children so he was understandably reluctant to let her in. He finally did, acknowledging her as his daughter and obviously enjoying her company, only to watch her get shot right in front of him. She got better, but he doesn't know that.
      The Doctor: I was a dad once, but I lost all that, along with everything else. And when they died, that part of me died with them.
  • Know how Cersei's mentioned up in Literature? Since Game of Thrones over took the books all three of them are dead. Joffery died the same was he did in the books, Myrcella was poisoned by Ellaria out of Revenge by Proxy for the Lannisters' role in the death of her lover, and Tommen killed himself after he realized he was little more than Cersei's puppet, and after Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor while his wife (whom he genuinely loved) was inside. What's worse is she doesn't even seem to care anymore: she was upset but not very surprised at Myrcella's death, and she was rather callous when Tommen died, coldly telling Qyburn to burn and bury him before claiming his throne for herself.
    • That 'wife', by the way, was Margarey Tyrell, and that explosion also took out her father and brother, meaning Oleanna Tyrell lost her son and her grandchildren in that explosion.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess just love this trope. Hercules' three children, along with his wife, are all killed by Hera in the first episode. Xena's son is killed in the third season. Gabrielle's Anti Christ child also dies before she does. Hera even outright refers to this trope when speaking to Hercules:
    "Because of a lesson I regret teaching you long ago, Hercules. Parents should never outlive their children."
  • Once Upon a Time has Rumplestiltskin, who takes on a dark curse to save his child only to lose him instead. He then spends 300 years to get him back only to lose his son again, and this time permanently. Ouch.
  • NCIS: Gibbs' first wife and daughter were murdered by a drug dealer. Gibbs later got his revenge.
  • John Amsterdam, the main character in New Amsterdam, is an immortal man who has lived in the New York area since the 1600s. He's seen generations come and go, and his children and their subsequent children have all died in the interim. He's at the point where he's occasionally running into his greatgrandchildren, and has to keep a chart of all his relatives to prevent becoming intimate with an unknowing blood relation. His latest son is physically in his 60s during the present day and has his own grandchildren.
  • RoboCop: The Series sees the Alex Murphy's parents alive and dealing with this as they're unaware their son was resuurected as the titular cyborg. "Corporate Raiders" ended with Alex's father, Russell learning the truth, and Alex swearing him to keep it a secret.
  • 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.
  • Stated by Maggie's double's father in an episode of Sliders. Her double was an astronaut, who was reported to have died during humanity's first manned mission to Mars. While it was a lie, her double did die on Earth after the mission due to poor radiation shielding on the spacecraft.
  • 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 losing parents is an orphan, but a person losing a child doesn't even have a name.
  • On Soap, news that Jessica is dying snaps her father out of his dementia-related soldier fantasy.
  • In the seventh season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Dark Page," Counselor Troi is revealed to have had an older sister, Kestra, who drowned in an accident while she (Deanna) was an infant. Her mother, Lwaxanna, was devastated by grief and guilt, and destroyed all evidence the girl had lived (except for one photograph Mr. Homn had saved just in case) and buried the memory in what a telepathic ambassador with whom she was dealing described as a "dark place," because she was unable to live with the pain.
  • In the season 5, midseason finale of Supernatural Ellen ends up watching her daughter, Jo, die, shortly before she preforms a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Teen Wolf: As of the end of Season 3, Chris Argent has outlived his daughter Allison. Along with the rest of his family except for his father, who he now wants nothing to do with.
  • The Flash (1990) has Barry's older brother, a decorated cop, ambushed and killed by a criminal. Their parents are devastated, but knew it was a possibility, since Allen Sr. is a retired cop himself. Still, they're glad their younger son is just a lab tech, not knowing about his powers and crime-fighting.
  • 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 Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer's parents are devastated by her death. Sarah seems to be teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown from her grief, and her husband Leland begins showing signs of Sanity Slippage, including compulsive dancing and singing punctuated by crying breakdowns. He also takes revenge by murdering Jacques Renault, a suspect. Of course, he was likely mentally unstable to begin with and was pushed over the edge by Laura's death, given that he was being demonically possessed, a phenomenon that seems to corrupt the psyche, and also probably sensed or remembered on a subconscious level what really occurred the night of her death.
  • Applies to many characters in The Walking Dead. Carol's daughter was killed after wandering away from the group in Season 2, Morgan's son was bitten by his own undead mother, Abraham's children were killed early in the apocalypse by walkers when he was away scavenging, and Michonne's infant son was lost the same way. The latter is trying her hardest to avert this with Carl and Judith. In Season 4, Carol also lost her two surrogate daughters when Mika was killed by her mentally ill sister Lizzie, who Carol then had to put down herself. Zig-zagged in Season 6 when Jessie watches Sam being Devoured by the Horde before she dies herself, followed shortly thereafter by her other son, Ron.
  • Warehouse 13: Female H.G. Wells' Start of Darkness was when her daughter was murdered. When Claudia comments that outliving a child is the most painful thing a person can go through, Wells corrects her. What she did to the people that killed her daughter, that's the most pain a person can go through.
  • The X-Files: Scully's daughter, an unstable genetic experiment created using the ova stolen from Scully when she was abducted, dies just days after Scully learns of her existence.
  • The Affair: Alison and Cole lost their son Gabriel in 2012. She blames herself for it, as they saved him from drowning and then put him to bed, only for him to die in his sleep as a result of secondary drowning (fluid retained in the lungs).
  • In the season 2 premiere of Daredevil, Frank Castle machine-guns a meeting of Kitchen Irish men, one of whom is the son of Finn Cooley, the boss in this Irish mob faction. A few episodes later, Finn arrives in New York City for the funeral. He does launch a manhunt for the guy responsible, but he seems more motivated by the fact that Castle stole some Kitchen Irish money as collateral, rather than his son's death.
  • General Hospital has the character of Edward Quatermaine who, prior to his death in 2012, lost two sons, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild (though some suffered from Comic Book Death and were revived) the deaths of his eldest son and youngest granddaughter affected him the most.

    Myths & Religion 
  • 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."

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • There are a few examples in the Assassin's Creed franchise:
    • In Assassin's Creed II Ezio's mother Maria goes mute after witnessing the deaths of her husband and two of her sons and being abused by the city guards.
    • In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Ah Tabai, the mentor of the West Indies Assassins, had only one son who died before the age of ten. Anne Bonny's child dies shortly after being born.
    • Desmond's death in Assassin's Creed III sends William Miles into a Heroic B.S.O.D. and causes him to leave the Assassin Order.
    • One of Altaïr's sons was executed when Altaïr's rival seized control of the Assassins while Altaïr was away. To make things worse, the guy who killed him taunted Altaïr when he revealed that he lied to Altaïr's son that he was being executed on Altaïr's orders. And then framed Altaïr's best friend Malik as the one who ordered Sef's execution before eventually killing him as well. Upon learning that his son died believing Altaïr had betrayed him, Altaïr immediately uses the Apple to Mind Rape the executioner—which leads directly to the death of Altaïr's wife, too.
  • In Dangan Ronpa, in the first game, Ishimaru is one of the murder victims, in the Another Episode spin-off game, it is revealed that his father is still alive half a year after that.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, this happens to Fergus Cousland, the older brother of the Human Noble Warden, their sister-in-law and young nephew are slain during Arl Howe's coup in their origin. As Fergus had already left for Ostagar, their sibling is left with the sad duty of breaking the news to him, only to be prevented from doing so as he goes missing in action shortly before the battle. The Warden finally can tell him at the end of the game, when Fergus is revealed to have survived the battle, but spent several months recuperating from his wounds.
    • Tragically, this even applies to Fergus' and the Human Noble's parents, who only perish at the end of the prologue, meaning that they briefly outlived their own grandson. After discovering her grandson slain, Teyrna Eleanor Cousland's reaction was to pick up a weapon and proceed to get very, very angry.
    • The City Elf Warden's father, Cyrion, can also fall victim to this if the PC chooses to perform the Ultimate Sacrifice.
  • 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. You have to kill Ser Thrask's possessed daughter shortly after meeting him, and the Viscount's son is murdered near the climax of Act 2.
  • At the start of one of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's Daedric quests, the Dragonborn encounters a couple who are burying their young daughter, the victim of a recent werewolf attack. In Morthal, a man named Hroggar's wife and daughter perished in a fire. His neighbors are suspicious of him because he immediately hooked up with another woman named Alva and shows no apparent signs of grief over his loss. Hroggar is innocent. He is merely the charmed thrall of the vampiress Alva, who ordered another vampiress to kill Hroggar's family.
    • You can orchestrate this during the Dark Brotherhood questline. Torbjorn and Tova Shatter-Shield are mourning the death of their daughter, Friga. If you murder their other daughter, Nilsine, on your client Muiri's request (they initially took her in as her family, but after she was swindled by a bandit they blamed her and rejected her; the contract calls for killing the bandit primarily, but she'll pay extra for Nilsine), Tova will commit suicide in grief over losing both her children. Even before you do anything, all family members are mourning for Friga's loss.
  • In Fallout 4, this will inevitably happen to the player character when they find out their son is an old man... and the leader of the Institute. Even if the player doesn't kill him personally, he's dying of a terminal cancer even the Institute can't cure.
  • 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 Harvest Moon 64 Elli's grandmother, Ellen from SNES, lost her child and their spouse in a storm. The same happens in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature but this time Elli has a little brother and the parents cause of death isn't stated.
  • This is what starts the plot in Heavy Rain. Then Ethan Mars will be challenged to avoid it with his youngest son.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, Professor Sycamore mentions in passing that his daughter would be about the same age as one villager if she were still alive.
  • This is one of the driving forces of the true plot of Undertale. King Asgore Dreemurr started his quest to destroy the barrier and wage war on humanity because of a tragedy that resulted in the death of both his biological son Asriel and his adopted child the "fallen human" you named at the beginning of the game, who isn't the Player Character. His wife Toriel refused to go along with this plan and left him to live in the Ruins, on the far opposite side of the Underground. It's also mentioned in the Golden Ending that their particular species of monster only ages while they have a biological child, so if Toriel and/or Asgore were to adopt the Player Character as they had offered to earlier in the game, this would happen again. note 
  • Something that's happened a distressing amount of times in the Warcraft universe. Varok Saurfang, Eitrigg, Tirion Fordring, Genn Greymane, Fandral Staghelm and many others all lost sons in the many wars and conflicts that plague Azeroth, and broke them all to greater or lesser degrees.

    Web Comics 
  • In addition to the fact that they live in Crapsack World with a high mortality rate in general, fae in Drowtales can live for upwards of a thousand years, so many older dark elves and drow have experienced this and handle it in varying ways. The thousand-plus years old Diva'ratrika notes with sadness that she has had multiple generations of grandchildren who have died without ever meeting her, and Sil'lice suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. after she loses a number of adult children and grandchildren during the Nidraa'chal War, and as of chapter 46 her youngest daughter Shala, who, for added pathos, is named after another dead child, Kau'Shala, and was killed by the exact same person.
  • In Something*Positive, Fred Macintire outlived his first wife and their child. His second wife Faye also dies in her sleep relatively young and is outlived by her own elderly mother.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender, before the start of the series, Iroh's son, Lu Ten, died in the siege of Ba Sing Se. Iroh took his death so hard that he abandoned the siege and retired from the Fire Nation army.
  • Inverted in The Simpsons episode "The Great Louse Detective"
    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.
    • Also in "Kill the Alligator and Run", after believing he'll only live to be 42.
    Homer: I won't even live to see my children die!
    • 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!

    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.
  • 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.
  • Henry VIII's Succession Crisis was spurred along by the fact that the children he kept having with first wife Katherine of Aragon almost always died. During the course of their marriage they had approximately ten children, and only one — the future Mary I — survived infancy. Henry himself only became king because his father, Henry VII, experienced this trope with the death of Henry's elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales.
  • The Reverend Patrick Brontë had six children: Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne. He outlived all of them.
  • Similarly, Mary Ida Vandross, mother of singing legend Luther Vandross, outlived all four of her children before her own demise in 2008.
  • Veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave outlived her daughter Natasha Richardson (also a veteran actress) after the latter tragically died in 2009 due to a skiing accident.
  • American rocket scientist Jack Parsons, the inventor of modern perchlorate-based solid rocket fuel and one of the founders of Aerojet, died in a lab accident in his garage on June 17, 1952, at the age of 37. His mother killed herself with an overdose of barbiturates that very day.
  • The Sanskrit language uses the word "vilomah" for parents who have lost their children. Translated to English it literally means "against a natural order".
  • Notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger had one son in 1967 who by all reliable accounts he genuinely loved. When the boy died from Reye Syndrome in 1973 at the age of six Whitey was devastated, and while there's plenty of indications that he already possessed the manipulative and violent characteristics that would lead to his later infamy (he did, after all, spend several years in Alcatraz) the boy's death warped his personality even more, and according to the mother of the child he vowed to Never Be Hurt Again afterwards.
  • Vice-President Joe Biden outlived his first daughter Naomi, who died in an auto accident along with his first wife Nielle in 1972, and his eldest son Beau, who died from cancer in 2015.
  • George Washington was Martha Washington's second husband; before him, she was married to Daniel Parke Custis and they had four children before he died in 1757. Martha outlived all of her children: two died in childhood, another two in young adulthood.
  • Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln had four children, only one of whom, Robert, outlived both of them. It's believed that the death of their third son, Tad, in 1871 contributed to Mary's already declining mental health and increasingly erratic behavior, and her son had her committed to a mental institution for her own safety.
  • Hugh O'Connor, son of acclaimed TV actor Carroll O'Connor, committed suicide in 1995 after a battle with addiction. Grieving Carroll lobbied to pass a law allowing family members of drug addicts to sue dealers for medical treatment and rehabilitation.
  • The phrase "may you outlive your sons" is used as a curse against someone in certain countries. It can even be said in a very congenial tone, making it sound as if the speaker is simply wishing for the health and long life of the recipient, but is actually one of the deepest expressions of contempt.
  • Professional wrestler Fritz Von Erich had six sons, and all but one (his second son, Kevin) died before him.
    • His oldest son, Jack, was electrocuted at the tender age of five.
    • Third son, David, died in 1984 while on tour in Japan. There are conflicting stories of his death: some say he died of a drug overdose, others say it was a heart attack caused by a ruptured intestine.
      • David also outlived his own offspring, a daughter, Natasha, who died in infancy.
    • Fifth son, Mike, committed suicide in 1987, overdosing on the painkiller, Placidyl. Mike never wanted to be a wrestler, but was pressured into the business by Fritz, and the pressure only got worse after David died and Mike was considered his replacement.
    • Youngest son, Chris, committed suicide in 1991, shooting himself. Chris wanted to wrestle, but due to his small size (he was listed as 5 feet, 7 inches and weighing 201 pounds) and medical history of asthma, he had little chance of succeeding.
    • Fourth son, Kerry (the most successful of the boys), committed suicide in 1993, shooting himself in the heart. His marriage was falling apart and he had been arrested twice for drug possession. According to Bret Hart, Kerry had been planning for months to take his life.
  • The two eldest of Roy Orbison's six sons died in a fire in 1968.
  • Pierre Trudeau's youngest son, Michel, died in an avalanche in 1998, less than 2 years before Pierre himself died in 2000.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OutlivingOnesOffspring