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Outliving One's Offspring

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Death of the Pharaoh's First Born Son by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

"No parent should have to bury their child."

Parents’ worst fear is realized: their children have died. 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 parents are 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 the parent’s children) and far too frequently during times of war when the offspring is old enough to fight and in earlier historical periods when death at early or middle age was more common than it was today, those who lived to advanced age (their 80s or 90s) were likely to have outlived some of their children or even grandchildren. However, unlike in fiction, in real life, it is accepted as a fact of life, no matter how depressing the situation is.

If the deceased offspring leaves behind a child of their own, it often leads to said child being Raised by Grandparents.


The invocation of this trope is Offing the Offspring, where the parents deliberately outlive their offspring by killing them.

As a Death Trope, many if not all spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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  • Michelangelo's Pietà depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the corpse of her son as if he was still her infant child.

    Fairy Tales 
  • "The Three Snake Leaves": The king outlives his daughter when she dies from sickness. Later she is brought back, but she is executed for murder.

  • 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."
  • A variation on the joke: the husband and wife are both over 100.

  • Luis Alberto Spinetta's song "Era en Abril" ("It happened in April") is from the perspective of a couple struggling to deal with the miscarriage of their son.
  • Padruig Mór Mac Crimmon composed "Cumhadh na Cloinne" (Lament for the Children) in the early 1650s. The song is believed to be based on the loss of seven of his eight sons to an unknown illness, possibly brought to the Isle of Skye by a trading vessel, although it could also refer to the slaughter of the MacLeods fighting Cromwell's forces at the Battle of Worcester. It may have been inspired by both. The lyrics alone are deeply poignant: "Lad of the black hair, I gave you love,/Lad of the black hair, I gave you affection,/I gave you love and I gave you affection,/I gave you love that I did not give the others,/Lad of the black hair, I gave you affection."
  • Eric Clapton made the song "Tears in Heaven" in memory of his four-year-old son Connor Clapton, who fell to his death off the window of the 53rd floor of an apartment building.
  • "Ronan" by Taylor Swift is sung from the perspective of a grieving mother- and in fact, it was written using phrases from a grieving mother's blog.

    Mythology and 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."
  • The Bible:
    • In the Book of Exodus, the final plague on Egypt is the death of all of Egypt's firstborn children, including Pharaoh's. His grief and anger over this leads him to tell Moses and the Israelites to Get Out!, and then to muster his army and pursue them, only to be destroyed when the Red Sea swallows them up. And of course, this comes after the Egyptians threw an untold number of Hebrew newborns into the Nile, which also qualifies.
    • In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve outlive their son Abel after their other son Cain kills him. Jacob also spends twenty years thinking his favorite son Joseph was killed by a wild animal, though really Joseph's jealous brothers sold him into slavery and faked his death, and eventually father and son are reunited.
      • Jacob's son Judah, incidentally, outlives his own first two sons. He was the brother whose idea it was to sell Joseph – one can only imagine how he took Jacob's attempts to console him at Er's funeral and then Onan's.
    • In the book of Ruth, Naomi survives all of her sons. However, her daughter-in-law Ruth pledges to remain by her side. For what it's worth, Jewish tradition also identifies Boaz with Ibzan, but says that the sixty children that he had before meeting Ruth all predeceased him.
    • King David outlives three of his sons: his firstborn Amnon is murdered by half-brother Absalom in revenge for him raping their sister Tamar; Absalom himself revolts against David and is killed by the latter's soldiers (albeit against the orders of David, who grieves deeply at the news); and his first son by Bathsheba dies in infancy as punishment for the circumstances of the baby's conception.
    • As part of Job's suffering, all ten of his children are crushed to death when a windstorm collapses the house where they're dining. However, some scholars, uncomfortable with the thought of God letting innocent young people die just to test their father's faith, have taken the words "He also had seven sons and three daughters" in the epilogue to mean that Job's children actually survived the accident and reunited with him later. The more traditional interpretation is that ten new children were born after God restored Job's health and riches.
    • The Virgin Mary sees her son Jesus crucified. The image of her cradling his body is one of the most famous motifs in all of Western art, La Pietà.
  • In Islam, The Prophet Muhammad outlived all of his children except his daughter Fatima.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Safe Havens: Palmtop eventually reveals that she outlived all the puppies in her litter except for Deke, as they all chose to remain dogs while she and Deke now live as humans.


    Theme Parks 
  • In 1979, Kings Island built The Beast, which was the longest wooden roller coaster in the world. In 2000, as part of an expansion of the new Action Zone, the park built Son of Beast, which was the world's first wooden hypercoaster and first wooden roller coaster with an inversion. It was the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the world, and second-longest behind only its "father" coaster. Unfortunately, unlike the father Beast, the Son of Beast was plagued with design problems caused by subpar construction material, closed in 2009, and demolished in 2012 to be replaced with an inverted coaster known as Banshee, while the "father" Beast remains operating to this day.

  • In Teddy Scares, Rita Mortis's original backstory mentioned that her parents spat on her grave after she died.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: In the first game, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Kiyotaka Ishimaru is one of the murder victims. In the Spin-Off game Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, it is revealed that his father Takaaki is still alive half a year after that. Same goes for Chihiro Fujisaki's father Taichi, though he dies unaware of his child's death.
  • Spirit Hunter: NG:
    • Ban lost his son to a spirit, which is what motivated him to face off against the supernatural and expose the seedy underbelly of the world.
    • The Killer Peach's husband and son were killed in the fire started by the son of Sumii Group's president, hence why she seeks revenge against them. She also does so while emulating Momotaro, in accordance with a drawing that her child drew for her.

  • Dr. Light in the Cataclysm videos in Bob and George has to watch his robot children Roll and Mega Man fall to Zero. His eldest, Proto Man, arrives on the scene right after Dr. Light is fatally wounded; Dr. Light tells Proto Man that he's happy that at least one of his children outlives him. Averted in the strip proper, where everyone faked their deaths.
  • 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. Sil'lice suffers a Heroic BSoD 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. Later, in chapter 50, Quain'tana briefly outlives her own grandson, Vene, when he's killed by traitors to the clan which contributes to her Unstoppable Rage.
    • Earlier in the story, it's noted that Quain'tana also outlived her second daughter (and favorite child) Laele'aell.
    • Zala'ess Vel'Sharen also notably outlived one of her children. Yaeminira, previously known as Vy'chriel, who died at the hands of her adopted sister/bodyguard, who took her name upon Vy'chriel's death.
  • In El Goonish Shive, it is revealed that Raven had unknowingly fathered children in the distant past which means he has outlived countless descendants without knowing it.
  • 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.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Ensi Hotakainen is implied to not be outright dead in the present at the end of the flashback giving her A Day in the Limelight, while the graves of both her sons have been shown on-panel.
  • In Girl Genius, the attack on Castle Heterodyne that occurred in the backstory claimed the lives of two sons who were outlived by their fathers. Bill Heterodyne lost his infant son and nearly went mad with grief (even worse since it's strongly implied that his wife and the mother of the boy, Lucrezia, was responsible for the attack). Former seneschal Carson Von Mekhan had retired just three days before the attack. When he gathered the townsfolk to respond to the attack, he then discovered the body of the new seneschal — his own son. It was cold comfort for him to learn that his son died trying to save Bill's son.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: The Ageless God-Emperor Solomon David appoints his sons as councilors of his multiverse-spanning empire, but after having outlived twenty-five generations of them, he's rather jaded about the whole arrangement.
  • Mom, I'm Sorry: Henry gives up 44 years of his lifespan so his dying mother can live a full life. This leaves him with roughly a year, which he spends helping his mother live out her dream while hiding the fact that he will die soon and eventually attempting to erase her memories of him. Her memories come back an hour before he dies, and she finds him just in time to watch him die.
  • Dumbing of Age: The Time Skip revealed Mike subcumbed to his injuries. The last time his parents were seen was at his bedside, with his father murmuring that he knew Mike was a good boy.
  • Sleepless Domain:
    • The parents of Gwen, Sylvia, and Sally all lost their respective daughters when an attack on Team Alchemical turned tragic. What's worse for Sylvia's mom, Sylvia was the breadwinner of the family.
    • Cassidy dies fighting Goops, and because of how she died she didn't even leave a body for anyone to find, meaning her parents aren't even aware she's dead, just missing.
  • Africa:
    • Giza lost all her cubs before Africa was born
    • Africa discovers Binti dead on pg. 190
  • Unsounded: Rahm and Iiori's son Dani was killed demonstrating a flight pymaric Dani and Rahm created. His death drove Rahm to join the Black Tongues and both his parents have been unable to move on.

    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. Incidentally, this event led to his Heel–Face Turn in his backstory.
    • The Northern Water Tribe's Chief Arnook is still alive in the second season after his daughter Yue sacrifices herself to restore the Moon.
  • BoJack Horseman:
    • Joseph and Honey Sugarman's firstborn and only son, CrackerJack, died in WWII, and that fact had a major role in shaping the lives of their daughter and grandson.
    • Sarah Lynn's Stage Mom outlives her daughter, who dies from a drug overdose.
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • By the time the story starts, Fergus and Downy McDuck have long outlived their middle child Hortense. Since Scrooge accidentally made them immortal with the druid stones he used to rebuild the family's ancestral home, it's likely that they'll also outlive him (though not his sister Matilda, who lives with them and is affected by the stones' power).
    • Scrooge himself was subjected to this in the backstory, as he took custody of the young twins Donald and Della after Hortense's death. Della's disappearance was devastating for him not just because he essentially lost a daughter, but also the fact that the circumstances behind it led him and Donald to be estranged for a decade. Fortunately, the season one finale reveals that Della is still alive on the moon, and the two reunite partway through season two.
    • It's explained in "The Last Adventure!" that Mrs. Beakley lost both her daughter and son-in-law in unspecified circumstances, explaining how she ended up becoming her granddaughter's legal guardian. Then again, considering the fact that Webby is actually an Opposite-Sex Clone of Scrooge that she adopted, it's entirely possible that she never had a daughter to begin with.
  • Macbeth in Gargoyles. The scene in "City of Stone" where his son Luach's fate is revealed is one of the most tear-jerking scenes in the series.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "The Perfect Pear" introduces Grand Pear, the estranged father of Applejack's late mother Buttercup (née Pear Butter), who seems ashamed that he disowned his daughter for marrying a member of their rivals the Apple clan and never got the chance to make amends. Series regular Granny Smith has also outlived her son Bright Mac, Buttercup's husband.
  • South Park: Kenny McCormick's parents. Over and over and over again.
  • In the finale of Regular Show, Pops performs a Heroic Sacrifice by tackling his brother into the sun. His adopted father Mr. Maellard was still alive, and the Grumpy Old Man is (for once) visibly and understandably saddened, and he dies an unspecified but relatively small number of years later.
  • 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 upside to it!
  • Futurama has an interesting variation: Fry disappeared and his family never saw him again, but because his disappearance was a case of accidental cryogenic freezing that landed him in the year 3000, he still outlived them all. And then you realize the trope is played completely straight in the case of Fry's father, Yancy Fry Sr., who thanks to time-travel shenanigans is technically also Fry's son.


Video Example(s):


Oscar and Olivia Webster

Oscar recounts the moments he spent with his late daughter, up until he was struck with the same illess as Oscar's wife and their last moments together. His recounting over Olivia's death and being unable to move on from daughter's death causes Violet to become emotional about the idea of a parent losing their child.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / OutlivingOnesOffspring

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