I've come across someone trying to write about a man who lost his wife and child to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Is there any term like "widower" or "orphan" but for describing someone who has lost his wife and children?

(As far as I'm aware, his parents aren't alive.)

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    As you just demonstrated, it's easily expressed--but perhaps not as a single word. The best I can come up with is bereaved.
    – user230
    Commented Mar 11, 2013 at 10:24
  • @snailplane That should be an answer!
    – James K
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 21:20
  • 1
    @JamesK It's been years since I wrote this comment, but I think the reason I left it as a comment rather than an answer is because Andrew Grimm was looking for a single word, and there isn't really a suitable one. Since there isn't, he left an answer for his own question suggesting that it may be a "semantic gap", and I upvoted that answer rather than leaving my own.
    – user230
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 5:52

2 Answers 2


In obituaries, the terms "survived" and "survivor" are often used. I don't know of a single word to express this, but you could say that he is "the family's only survivor" or "the family is survived by only one member."


This may well be a semantic gap - a concept for which there is no word.

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.


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