Is there a word that describes a parent whose child has died?

Along the lines of "orphan", "widow", and "widower", is there a single word for a parent who has lost a child (of any age)?

  • Maybe there is no such special word because, until very recent times, almost all parents would fall in that category.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 20:14
  • 1
    I am a bereaved mother and perfectly happy with that description. Any newly-minted word, like the ones being suggested below, would only work for the specific bereaved parents themselves. Others would be unaware of the meaning. If the question came up, you could call yourselves "tethligons" to avoid the grief of explaining, once again, that your child died - but then you'd have to define "tethligons" and you'd be right back at your starting point. If people ask how many children we have, I either say we have two, or say that we have two surviving children. (cont.)
    – user61106
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 19:27
  • (cont.) Frankly, I don't want to discuss my grievous loss with most people.
    – user61106
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 19:27

8 Answers 8


I don't think there's a single word on the order of orphan and widow/widower. I would say bereaved parents.

  • 6
    I too don't believe there is a single English word for having lost a child. There are numerous articles about bereaved parents that begin with this fact. [parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/describing-grief/] And many organizations for parents who lost a child call them bereaved parents. [bereavedparents.com/]
    – JLG
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 21:17
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    +1 "Bereaved parents" would be I believe, the most correct term to call a parent who has lost his child.
    – Bidella
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 0:42

I'm a bereaved parent who wishes there was a term like orphan or widow to describe my status. Some say there is no such title because the death of a child is too awful to put into words. Some say that historically, a child dying was such a common event that it didn't merit a special word. Also, I've heard it said that the passing of a child doesn't affect the societal status of the surviving parent in the way that widow or orphan does.

I'm here to say that it's awful for me to think it's too awful an event to give name to. It happens everyday to countless parents like me, and I get no comfort from the denial. The other idea, that it's so commonplace that there's no need for a name, seems to diminish the monumental impact of the loss of a child. While it's true that children died more often in the past, it's no longer the case today, in the US anyway. I think our language needs to catch up.

As far as the notion of our status in society being unchanged, although we are not orphaned or widowed, we are forever marked. I think the word shadow, is a good descriptor. We are a shadow of our former selves, even as we move on. We will always have the shadow of our departed children. It has the familiar "dow" in it. I'm going to start using it, and hope that others will join me.

  • I'm very sorry for your loss.
    – Adam Brown
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 23:29
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    I'm sorry for your loss as well. Vilomah (see below) or parphent (parphent.com) have been suggested. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 21:45

Picking at the Greek words involved:

  • tethlimmenos is bereaved (-menos is the ending for “being in a state of”)
  • and parents are goneis, singular goneas.

The Latin for bereaved is detrudat (which I don’t like), and parent is parens.

I think it would be handy for bereaved parents if on being asked whether they have any children, they could say:

  • I’m a tethlimom. (if a mother)
  • I’m a tethlidad. (if a father)
  • We’re tethligons. (for both)

instead of:

  • I did have a child, but that child died.
  • I did have a son, but he died.
  • I did have a daughter, but she died.

Much less painful.

The two-parent word could be tethligons.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU. Nice first post. I’ve taken the liberty to try to reformat your posting, and someone rearrange it, for clarity. If this is not quite what you intended, please feel free to edit it yourself to make it say what you intended.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 15:47

This may well be a semantic gap - a concept for which there is no word. Not only for English, but even other languages.

Pakistani poet and writer Fatima Bhutto wrote in A Nation's Sorrow: Today, for us young citizens, Pakistan feels like a country empty of dreams (17 December, 2014)

There is no word for a parent who buries a child. No equivalent of widow or orphan in any language that I know, we do not have the language to describe a parent who lays his child into the earth before his time. So with what tongue do we speak of the dead now? It is a sorrow too large to bear.

  • and the language does not miss that word.
    – Misti
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 12:05

Like the male (opposite) equivalent of "widow" is "widower", so should the logical opposite of "orphan" probably be "orphaner".

You could probably also use the word "griever", or even "bereaver", although they are more generic, so I like "orphaner" (and "orphaners") better.

One dictionary root origin for orphan:

Origin: 1425–75; late Middle English (noun) < Late Latin orphanus destitute, without parents < Greek orphanós bereaved; akin to Latin orbus bereaved

  • The problem here is that "-er" as a suffix has two meanings: "one who does or causes" and "male counterpart when default is female", which only shows up with widow. Orphaner suggests child-killer, as orphan is itself gender neutral. Similar with bereaver, as bereave is causative.
    – No Name
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 21:50

According to the New York Times, the term is “Vilomah.” This means “against a natural order,” she writes. “As in, the gray-haired should not bury those with black hair. As in our children should not precede us in death.” http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/describing-grief/

I say that we pick a term and stick with it. All of this making up terms by individual people will not hold up.

  • That's a good idea, but the word is so foreign, it's unlikely to be understood when used. There are hundreds of millions of English speakers; better to be able to communicate than to find the perfect, but completely unrecognizable, word. Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 0:59
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    @medica, I disagree. A new word always starts from obscurity, and then become familiar. I'm not sure I like the word "vilomah," but when a word comes along that makes sense to enough people, it will become part of the language. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 21:36

I lost my son Andy in May 2010 to brain tumors. I am in community with a large group of women who were also caregivers but mostly to their husbands, so they are widows. I finally realized I am a 'mommow'. Andy's father would be a 'daddow'. Works for me. I know it doesn't have lovely etymology but neither does it take too much explaining. Peace, Sarah


There is a word, a little obscure with the definition "if" used but has the meaning. I found it just by googling "BEREFT" as I thought it was the word with this meaning, but wasn't 100% sure.

bereft bɪˈrɛft/ adjective adjective: bereft

deprived of or lacking (something).
"her room was stark and bereft of colour"
synonyms:   deprived of, robbed of, stripped of, denuded of; More
cut off from, parted from, devoid of, destitute of, bankrupt of;
wanting, in need of, lacking, without, free from;
low on, short of, deficient in;
informalminus, sans, clean out of, fresh out of
"the peasantry were bereft of any opportunity for social mobility"
(of a person) sad and lonely, especially through someone's death or departure.
"his death in 1990 left her bereft"
  • 3
    One may be bereft of child, or left bereft. But I don't think you would say that "John is bereft" to imply specifically that their child has died (such as you would say "Jane was widowed" or "John is a widower" - which specifically implies that John or Jane's significant other died).
    – Doc
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 16:19

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