I don’t know if you have answered this before but, do you have any theory about what happens to Pokémon once their trainer die?
I feel like this must have happened in the anime before, but only three examples readily come to mind, all of which are unusual cases simply because of the nature of the Pokémon involved (please share any other examples, as I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of):
– from A Ship Full of Shivers, a Gastly and Haunter belonging to a former Champion of the Orange League, who remained in their Pokéballs for three hundred years after his ship sank off the coast of Moro Island, until they were accidentally awoken by divers seeking to claim their master’s antique championship trophy for the local museum. They remain utterly devoted to the memory of their trainer, and once awake, they focus all their efforts on reclaiming the trophy, before telekinetically levitating the entire ship and leaving Moro Island for good in order to hide it.
– from Just Waiting on a Friend, a Ninetales whose master went missing on a journey over two hundred years ago, an absence that was supposed to last only a month. Their mansion was gradually abandoned by the servants until only Ninetales was willing to continue waiting – and wait she did, apparently oblivious to the relatively short span of human lives in comparison to her own, maintaining an illusion of the ruined mansion’s former opulence, until Ash’s party found the place and Ninetales took a fancy to Brock, who resembled her dead trainer. If Ninetales’ trainer had any family to whom her loyalty could have been transferred, they are not mentioned.
– from the movie Victini and Zekrom/Reshiram, Victini himself, who is trapped inside the magical barrier that surrounds Eindoak Town and the Sword of the Vale after his trainer, the king of the People of the Vale, died almost a thousand years ago (at least, I think the king was formally Victini’s trainer; I don’t remember whether the movie is explicit about that). The king’s failure to dismantle the barrier before his death leaves Victini sad, lonely and hopeless, although flashbacks seem to say that he loved and admired his master a great deal, and that his current predicament has done nothing to dull his remembered affection.
So, like I said, not exactly what you’d call typical scenarios. The Pokémon involved are all extremely long-lived, and in the case of Gastly and Haunter, it’s not entirely clear what else they would be doing if not haunting their old master’s sunken ship; we just don’t know very much about their behaviour in the wild. Probably a more useful example is the Espurr in Seeking Shelter from the Storm, who actually never had a trainer at all, but was befriended by an elderly Kalosian woman named Lacy who lived in an old mansion near Espurr’s home. When Lacy died, leaving the mansion empty, Espurr didn’t know what had happened to her and ‘haunted’ the place until eventually meeting Lacy’s granddaughter Elise, the new owner of the property. The two become friends, and Elise is so inspired by the Pokémon’s affection for her grandmother that she decides to renovate the mansion and move in, rather than demolishing it as she had planned. The episode ends with Elise taking Espurr to visit Lacy’s grave to pay her respects.
So, unsurprisingly, Pokémon grieve for their human partners when they die. Exceptionally long-lived ones like Ninetales may have trouble understanding the very concept of death – the way the episode presents it, it seems like Ninetales chose to keep waiting while the servants left, either because she didn’t understand what they meant when they said their master wasn’t coming back, or didn’t believe them. This can lead to certain… ill-advised coping strategies. Ghost-types on the other hand, with their close ties to the spirit world, may feel that death doesn’t actually change anything in their relationships with their trainers. Why should loyalty to the dead be any less important than loyalty to the living for beings who exist between life and death? From a social perspective, it doesn’t seem like Pokémon have any formal obligations to their trainers’ next-of-kin, although it’s hard to tell since Espurr wasn’t really Lacy’s Pokémon and all the other examples I’ve got are Pokémon whose trainers died centuries ago. Pokémon might wish to stay with their trainers’ families regardless, out of either friendship with other family members or loyalty to their dead trainers. The other options seem to be returning to the wild or finding a new trainer among the friends of the deceased. I suppose this is one respect in which Pokémon are just like people – we all have to deal with death sooner or later, and we all have to figure out our own ways of doing that, even as our existing goals and priorities become meaningless.