17 Tragic Deaths of Parents and Parental Figures

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Sometimes it seems we spend our lives searching for someone to see us and love us for all our faults and foibles. Parents, be they birth parent or adoptive, will love us this way. They will see in us a beauty we will not understand until we ourselves are parents. No matter what we do, what we are or what we are not, they will always love us.

Until they are gone, and then we begin to question if anything will ever be right again. And if we are TV Fanatics, we turn to television and other forms of fiction for the answers.

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Loss is often necessary for the plot of a show, and by knowing that, we can maybe know that the losses we suffer have a purpose as well, even if we may never understand it. 

As devastating as it is watching a character we love experience loss, there is also a level of catharsis. We have found a kindred spirit. They know our pain and we know theirs. Isn't that the whole point?

This list is of the great losses children experience when great parents are taken from them. Whether the main character was the parent who died, or the child who lost them, the tragedy remains.

Let us know what you think, or if we missed some of your favorites.


1. Buffy Loses Joyce Summers -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy Loses Joyce Summers -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In a show riddled with death, the most tragic and unexpected was the loss of Joyce Summers. As the mom of the protagonist, and pseudo-mom of the rest of the Scoobies, Joyce provided a sense of family and support until she suffered a brain aneurysm after seemingly being cured of brain cancer. After the initial airing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5 Episode 16, many viewers who had suffered losses let the team behind Buffy know that the episode helped them cope and come to terms, in some cases years after the fact.

2. The Hennessy's Lose Paul -- 8 Simple Rules

The Hennessy's Lose Paul -- 8 Simple Rules
On two-parter 8 Simple Rules Season 2 Episode 4 and 8 Simple Rules Season 2 Episode 5, this early 2000s sitcom took a turn for the tragic. After actor John Ritter unexpectedly died, the show was forced to kill his character, Paul Hennessy. Paul, a writer and stay-at-home dad to two teenage girls and a preteen boy, was both the protagonist of the show, as well as the heart. Losing him hit all the characters hard, bringing them together in new ways and bringing out new sides of them. When Kate finds Paul's last column and reads it to his kids as they all cuddle on the bed, they all find comfort in his words. They know that their father knew he was loved.

3. Oliver and Laurel Lose Quentin Lance -- Arrow

Oliver and Laurel Lose Quentin Lance -- Arrow
With Sara off traveling through time and space and Earth-1 Laurel long dead, did Quentin have any kids to be wrecked by his death? You bet your Black Siren he did. Oliver dated and wronged both Lance's daughters, but on Arrow Season 6 Episode 23, Oliver acknowledges Quentin's fatherly role in his life. Lance watched Oliver grow up and grow into the man he is, and the love and sense of family is clear in that last scene they share. And let's not forget Earth 2 Laurel, who has found the father she never had in the man who loved her like his own. Quentin believed in her when nobody else did. She is perhaps the one who feels the loss most of all.

4. Dawson Loses Mitch Leery -- Dawson's Creek

Dawson Loses Mitch Leery -- Dawson's Creek
The most memorable thing about Dawson Leery is the dramatic way he feels everything. (A certain meme won't let us forget it). Yet Dawson was brought to a different level of feeling, as well as numbness when he lost his father. Neither son nor father was perfect, and both tried their best. However even all these years later, it is unlikely Dawson will ever forget that his father died after they had a big fight about Dawson's choices and priorities. One of the greatest tragedies about tragedies is the words left unsaid and the words you wish you didn't say. Dawson's choices and relationships were altered by the loss of his father and the guilt he will always carry with him.

5. Barry Loses Henry Allen -- The Flash

Barry Loses Henry Allen -- The Flash
Apparently, someone decided that seeing your mother murdered at age eleven, and having your father go to jail for it when you knew he was innocent was not enough loss for Barry Allen to go through. Barry and his father were reunited on The Flash Season 2 Episode 1, but they had barely had a year to reconnect before Barry is once again forced to witness his parent's murder on The Flash Season 2 Episode 22. While the loss of his parents in early childhood propelled Barry on his hero's journey to become The Flash, this loss had him backsliding, proving there is no one way to respond to grief.

6. Clark Loses Jonathan -- Smallville

Clark Loses Jonathan -- Smallville
I know Martha lost him too, and I'm not taking away from that as Martha and Jonathan are #MarriageGoals, but this list is about parents and children. The ultimate orphan found a family that made him feel loved and taught him to be the ultimate hero. So to lose the hero he looked up to, to lose his Superman, was devastating. It was made worse by Clark being partially responsible, but if he couldn't feel guilty about everything that goes wrong in the world he wouldn't be Clark Kent. Still, this loss, which occurred mid-series, defined so many of Clark's choices as he became Superman. There would be no Superman without Jonathan and Martha.

7. Lucas and Lily Lose Keith -- One Tree Hill

Lucas and Lily Lose Keith -- One Tree Hill
Dan Scott may have been Lucas's biological father, but his brother Keith was Lucas's father in all the ways that mattered. Lucas was the product of a brother he despised and a girl he loved, yet Keith was always there for Lucas, helping Karen raise him. When he and Karen got engaged, he even offered to adopt his nephew. They could have been a happy family had Dan not ruined things. This loss was made even more tragic by the fact that Keith did not know Karen was pregnant with his child. Lily never got to know Keith, but she often dreamt about him, and surely learned from her mother and brother what a great father and honorable man he was.

8. Lorelai and Rory Lose Richard -- Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life

Lorelai and Rory Lose Richard -- Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life
We don't actually see the Gilmore patriarch die, but his absence is felt in this revival just as strongly as his presence was felt in the original series. Lorelai had a complicated relationship with her father, but she still remembered that day at the mall with the pretzel, even if she couldn't summon the memory right away. Meanwhile for Rory, whose father was absent for a large portion of her life spent much of her teen years building a close relationship with her grandfather. At times his role was slightly more father than grandfather, and while their relationship had its ups and downs too, the fact that Rory's perfect haven to write her novel was her grandfather's study pretty much says it all.

9. Elena and Jeremy Lose Jenna -- The Vampire Diaries

Elena and Jeremy Lose Jenna -- The Vampire Diaries
After their parents died, Jenna Sommers goes from being the cool aunt to the disciplinarian. She does her best for Elena and Jeremy., helping them through grief, drugs problems, and teenage drama. While Jenna is mostly in the dark about the dangerous supernatural elements her charges often deal with, she provides a sense of home and family to them that they cannot find elsewhere. Her death was a great tragedy, especially in how little it seemed to effect Elena and Jeremy. Sure, they had other things going on, and they tossed out a mention every now and again. Perhaps this show simply had too many deaths to grieve properly.

10. Daphne and Bay Lose Angelo -- Switched At Birth

Daphne and Bay Lose Angelo -- Switched At Birth
Though absent for most of their lives, it was tragic when Bay and Daphne lost Angelo Sorento just as they were starting to have a real relationship with him. True, both girls had John Kennish, who raised Bay and was Daphne's bio-dad, but still. At the time, Daphne seemed to have the strongest reaction, spiraling into rebellion. Later, Bay revealed that in having to be strong for her family, she never got to properly grieve. Angelo and all the possibilities he represented may always haunt these sisters, but together they find a way to overcome the pain growing closer to the family they still have and growing into girls that would make Angelo proud.

11. Marshall Loses Marvin -- How I Met Your Mother

Marshall Loses Marvin -- How I Met Your Mother
It is always surprising when a funny sitcom "goes there." Marshall's father may not have played a major roll in the series, only guest-starring occasionally, but his sudden and unexpected death cut one of our main characters in a heartwrenching way. The Eriksens were a close-knit bunch, and it was from Marvin that Marshall learned to be the father of the group. Marshall's sense of loss was shown so plainly and purely in the episodes following. His drive to become a man his father could be proud of afterward is made even more beautiful by the fact that he was really doing that all along.

12. The Pearsons Lose Jack -- This Is Us

The Pearsons Lose Jack -- This Is Us
From the beginning, This Is Us was a tearjerker. Also from the beginning, due to the flashback/flashforward style of the series, we knew Jack was going to die. That did not make it any easier when, after a house fire, Rebecca has to tell Kate and Randall, and later Kevin, that their father is gone. Even twenty years later, it is still not okay!

13. Hope Mikaelson Loses Hayley and Klaus -- The Originals

Hope Mikaelson Loses Hayley and Klaus -- The Originals
Hope Mikaelson may have been a miracle baby, but she had no shortage of family. She had every distant relative you can think of. Still, at the end of the day, nothing can replace a parent, and Hope lost two devoted parents who would have saved or burned the world to protect her. Hayley's death is called pointless by many fans, and Klaus' allowed for a very disappointed fanbase when the series ended. Hopefully, in the spin-off, Hope will make peace with these losses that happened to her at such a tender age.

14. Bruce Loses Martha and Thomas -- Gotham

Bruce Loses Martha and Thomas -- Gotham
It is the famous Ba(t)ckstory. It is the moment that made Batman, Batman. It is the story of a little boy who loses everything in the few moments that will be the longest of his life. Bruce sees his parents murdered in front of him on Gotham Season 1 Episode 1, and it defines him. He has to grow up fast, and grow up he does. While this moment is as iconic as it is necessary, that does not take away from the tragedy that happened to this little boy because somebody decided he needed this pain. He and Barry Allen should hang out.

15. Caroline Loses Sheriff Liz -- The Vampire Diaries

Caroline Loses Sheriff Liz -- The Vampire Diaries
In the tradition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the death we feel the most in a vampire show is the one that has nothing to do with magic. Like Joyce Summers before her, mother figure Elizabeth (Liz) Forbes, contracts cancer and while Carolina searches for a magical solution to save her mother, she is forced to admit there are some things you just cannot change. Liz's death was one of the only death's in this series that stuck, but it cannot be said that TVD didn't pay Liz proper tribute. Even Damon was moved by the loss of his friend. Of course, nobody was affected more than her daughter whose own daughter now bears Liz's name.

16. Carl and Judith Lose Lori -- The Walking Dead

Carl and Judith Lose Lori -- The Walking Dead
When the apocalypse came, Lori's first priority was her son. She did whatever she felt she had to to keep him safe, and even though her love life was a mess, she never lost sight of that. Her last moments prove what kind of mother she is; she opts to have a C-section which will kill her for the sake of her unborn daughter Judith. Lori councils her son on how to live his life and lets him know he is loved before breathing her last. Carl shoots her to prevent her from becoming a zombie.

17. Thea and Oliver Lose Moira -- Arrow

Thea and Oliver Lose Moira -- Arrow
Oliver never stops losing people, does he. At this point, he would be used to it, if one ever got used to that sort of thing. And it was done as revenge on him so, that stinks. However, the real victim we see here is Thea, because while she had lost her father and (she thought) her brother, before, nothing shakes Thea of her innocence quite the way seeing her mother murdered before her eyes does. Moira had her faults but she loved her children and they loved her until the end.

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