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 choose 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.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist this happens to a few people.
- Pinako Rockbell's only son and daughter-in-law 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.
- General Grumman outlived his daughter, Riza Hawkeye's unnamed mother, although this relationship is confirmed only in supplemental material.
- 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.
- In Jojos Bizarre Adventure, Erina 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. Fortunately averted with the comical reveal of Joseph's survival.
- Arguably (and heartbreakingly) subverted in CLANNAD. Tomoya is alive and in good health while he holds his daughter Ushio as she dies of the same illness that killed her mother, but he collapses and dies of despair mere seconds later.
- 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 seeing 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.
- 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 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 years (or at least, what he could remember of it) believing his son was dead.
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. For some time later in the film, Marlin thinks Nemo is also dead, causing him to have a Heroic BSOD.
- 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.
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.
- Highlander: Connor Macleod suffers from this, being practically immortal - they're 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.
- 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 there was nothing he could do to stop it. His last words and facial expressions right before and after Chuck's death are downright painful to watch, especially for viewers with children and Adult Fears of their own.
- 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 the television series, 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 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.
- In Star Trek III The Searchfor 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.
- 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 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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. Not that it sticks.
- 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.
- Heidi goes to live with her grandfather, whose dead son was her father.
- 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.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- On Soap, news that Jessica is dying snaps her father out of his dementia-related soldier fantasy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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 Romeo and Juliet, Lord and Lady Montague and Lord and Lady Capulet each suffer this at the end.
- Another Shakespearean example is King Lear, who's unable to prevent Cordelia from being hanged. He also outlived his other daughters, but given the kind of people they were, it's understandable he'd be more concerned about Cordelia.
- Poor Macduff...
- 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, 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.
- Sadly 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There are a few examples in the Assassin's Creed franchise:
- 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 BSOD 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.
- 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.
- 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. Given that he turns out to be Descole, it's unclear whether this is true.
- This is what starts the plot in Heavy Rain. Then Ethan Mars will be challenged to avoid it with his youngest son.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Sanskrit language uses the word "vilomah" for a parent who has lost his or her children. Translated to English it literally means "against a natural order".