After dealing with the death of a loved one the second hardest part is having to go through their belongings. It can be stressful and sad, but it also gives someone insight into who the person was. That can either be a good thing or a terrible thing. The people in the following stories share what happened when they went through a deceased loved one's things and what shocking secrets they discovered.
(Content has been edited for clarity.)
Don’t Let The Family Know
“My best friend committed suicide. When I found out, I jumped in my car and drove the three hours to the house she lived in with her husband. Other friends showed up the next day. Her husband asked us ‘gals’ to go through her rooms to extract private items before her family showed up. Her family was a bit grabby. Nice, but this situation would bring out the worst in them.
So off we go – the four of us. We were trying to be quiet and respectful while we were all still in shock. Being part of the group of girls, we were alternating between crying and chewing her out. You should understand that my friend was wonderful, but she was sarcastic with a heart of gold. She could and would cut you to size if you pushed her, she was also incredibly generous to you if you were a friend or a relative in trouble. To me she was perfume; you had to enjoy her while she was there, but she was so independent that you never knew when she would show up or leave.
I happened to be in the bathroom with another friend digging around. I tried to put myself in my friend’s mindset and I stood in the middle of the bathroom and intently looked around. I noticed that the cabinet above the toilet had a lip at the top. I stood on the toilet and reached my hand up to feel around. I found stacks of papers.
We looked at them because we were curious but tried not to be obnoxious about it. Within minutes I had them gathered and gave them to her husband with an intense stare. I wanted him to know that these were important and that I suspected they were not good. He got it. He understood and put them away where her family could not find them.
My friend had been embezzling from the family company. Her husband knew that but those papers were the paper trail to show how much and how she did it. We never told her family.”
Things Could Have Gotten Bad
“My mom was planning on divorcing my stepdad and kidnapping her friend’s baby.
Her death was sudden – an aneurysm in her brain had ruptured. When she was in the hospital, her lawyer called her cell phone, which is how I found out about the planned divorce. I never told my stepdad.
The kidnapping wasn’t blatant, but we were able to piece it together when going through her belongings.
My mom adored her friend’s baby. She had a room in the house for her with a dresser full of outfits. When we were cleaning up, we discovered that this dresser was empty, save for a few diapers. Her luggage was also missing. It was odd, but we didn’t think too much about it until we found contact information for the landlord of the house she was renting in the next state. A house which she had rented under her maiden name. A house where we found suitcases with my mom’s and the baby’s clothes.
It sounds terrible, but we were lucky she died when she did.”
Grandma The Rebel
“I found out that my meek and lovely little grandma was a certified rebel.
When she passed, while the rest of my family was fighting over expensive stuff and the property, I found a couple of boxes full of diaries. About 60 years worth. They were all in Croatian so I couldn’t read them. I found a guy on Interpals who would translate them for me. I offered him $1,000 when he finished because it was quite a mammoth undertaking. A few months later he sent them back to me in a huge file.
What I learned was that at 13 she was sent to burn down a Nazi barracks. The men barricaded the door while she lit the fires.
She would put her hair in a bun and hide messages in them to give to other resistance fighters in other towns.
Toward the end of the war, she fled to Algeria. Working in a hotel before saving enough to make the trip to America.
On the boat, she met her husband. A Finnish man five years older than her. She was 16 at the time. They lived in New York City for a bit before moving to Minnesota.
There she worked for a mining company with her husband. She eventually saved enough to get her pilots license. She became the go-to pilot for scientists, researchers, campers, and hunters looking to get to the remote areas of northern Minnesota accessible only by seaplane.
She shot and killed a bear at point-blank range.
An inebriated miner tried to assault her after a night at the bar, but she bit his lip and pulled so hard that his lower lip was hanging off of his face.
For about 40 years she had a pack a day and drank a fifth of a bottle a day until she died. She refused to go to a nursing home and refused to go to the doctor for her cancer. Quote, ‘Only cowards go to the doctor when they know they are going to die.’
I remember my grandma as a hard-drinking, loud-mouthed, swearing champion. But also as the most kind and loving person, I’ve ever met. She never talked about the war with us except that she hates Serbia for some reason.”
Some Things Are Hard To Find Out
“My grandfather died in a car crash. In his last will, he wanted me to move into his apartment. I moved in a month after he died and I’ve been cleaning up, throwing stuff away and going through his belongings.
The entire apartment was adorned with old stuff from my sister and I and old things of his sons and wife. Old toys, presents, letters, photos, etc.
My grandfather was always a tinkerer and repaired an old typewriter and had written a sort of diary or journal, sometimes by hand.
My grandmother divorced him a few years ago, and he never got over it. He wrote her love letters saying how sorry he is and that she was the best that ever happened to him et cetera. In his journal, he wrote how alone he felt after she moved out. How sad he is that his second son (my father) never visits him.
His journal grew progressively darker and sadder. In the end, he was most likely depressed and the last few pages he wrote that sometimes he felt his mind slipping away and that he doesn’t understand why or how he forgets things sometimes. It sounded desperate.
There were also things about me and my sister. He often said how proud he was that I became an electrician like him and how pretty my sister grew up. In one paragraph he writes about how I once visited him and how he couldn’t recognize my voice at first and got my age wrong by three years. He asked himself how that happened etc.
It was heartbreaking to see in what condition my grandfather was. I never knew just how proud he was about what I do
I hope the old man has now found his peace. I will try my best to make him proud.
But I’m also ashamed that I didn’t visit him that often and that I didn’t see the signs. The apartment was adorned with all that ‘junk’ because he just wanted to be surrounded by memories of times when he wasn’t alone
I miss him.”
Grandma Did What She Had To Do
“My grandmother was probably a ‘working girl.’
She was a hoarder, so she had everything from her whole life in her house. In one old section, there were a LOT of different purses with little inside other than cards with men’s names and hotel rooms. There were also pictures of her. She was hot.
She had been starving during the depression, but she raised two kids by herself in the ’50s in her huge house and was financially comfortable her entire adult life. So, she was apparently good at it.”
Things Could Have Turned Out A Lot Darker
“My co-worker’s ex-husband recently passed away in a motorcycle accident. They divorced in 1995 in what she refers to as a ‘dark time’ in her marriage/life. They eventually reconciled but never remarried.
She was tasked with reconciling his affairs after his death. She discovered that the month after they finalized their divorce (back in ’95) he had taken out multiple life insurance policies on her for upwards of $500,000 each.
This lady is mourning the loss of a loved one while trying to reconcile her regrets, and then she stumbles upon what HAS to be evidence that he was thinking about killing her 20 years ago. How does anyone deal with that?”
Getting Pranked From Beyond The Grave
“My best friend in college passed away unexpectedly. His family never had the chance to visit from out of state, and never did, so a couple of us cleaned out his apartment. My fiancé had just left me two months earlier, and my dog died a month before that. I was clawing for anything sentimental. I mean, he was the type of best friend that would sneak out into the living room in the pitch blackness and teabag my face. It’s a rare closeness (I guess I should mention I’m female as if that justifies it all).
I was able to find sentimental belongings, but also took advantage of the fact that I was a broke college student and his apartment was stocked. I took anything I could to keep his memory alive. One of the things I took was a half-full bottle of pet stain and odor remover; I was getting a puppy soon.
Six months go by, my puppy pees on the carpet and at first, I think I’m in trouble before I remember Arnold’s gift. I squirt it all over the carpet mess, and I soak the area, taking no chances of a stain and get to scrubbing. Funny thing though, it starts to smell worse, the urine gets pungent. I just keep scrubbing, but no, something is wrong, then it hits me, and I just stop scrubbing, barehanded at that. I slowly opened the bottle, and yep, at one point this idiot was too lazy to pee in the toilet.”
A Dark Secret
“My boyfriend died on November 10th. He collapsed in the bathroom. My hands are still scabbed and scraped from trying in vain to reach underneath the door to shake him awake. He was my world, my love, my life. This wasn’t fair. We had just begun our life together! We did nothing wrong! I felt like the world had punished me for being too happy.
A few days after he died, I went back to the apartment with my father to clean out his belongings and try to move on with the grieving process. My dad wanted the vest he had given him. I remembered he had worn in the night before and retrieved it.
My dad put it on, reached into the pockets and pulled out two syringes and what I learned was a packet of illegal substances.
I had no idea. My family had known him a year and a half. We had no idea. Since then we’ve been discovering his whole life was a lie, and this was just the tip of the iceberg.”
A Disgusting Discovery
“My father passed away four years ago. To say he was a heavy drinker would be an understatement. He drank himself to death and died of cirrhosis in the most painful and agonizing way possible. It stopped his liver from doing what it needed to do over the course of several weeks that finally he pretty much died not being able to get the nutrients he needed for his body to survive. He was 54.
After his death, I reconnected with my grandparents (his parents), who he was living with in their basement. They had disowned me for almost a decade because I had dated an awesome black girl for five years and they were very bigoted about it.
I am an only child of my father, so I was his next of kin. Without a will, everything in his estate went to me. His car, his bank accounts, furniture, computers, etc. My grandparents didn’t want any of it, so I ended up with the lot.
I remember cleaning out the basement and finding so many bottles and folded up cartons that I wondered how a person could drink so much, seeing as he had only been there for two years. I found over 50 hard drink bottles and 60 24-32 pack carton boxes. My grandparents are old and didn’t allow drinking in their house, but he brought it in any way.
It felt weird having all of his things in my place. He wasn’t the best dad to me growing up and was distant. My stepfather was more of a dad than he ever was.
About two months after he died, I decided to finally hook up his desktop and clear it out. I was planning on giving it to my half brother for him to use and needed to see what I could do with it.
At first, it was the normal stuff you might find on a single 50-year-old dude’s computer – some adult material, pictures of cars, etc. But as I went deeper, I started to notice younger and younger people in his photos and videos. It was either young looking actors or children.
Then I discovered the massive photo files of his car racing stuff. I wondered why they were in super high resolution and so large. One picture, for example, was over 200 gigabytes and I was at a loss as to why.
Opening it up it seemed to be an extra large photo of a racetrack, but as I zoomed in, I noted that there were smaller photos inside the larger one. Hundreds of them.
All children. Nothing I would ever care to share in detail. I immediately vomited, as it was most certainly not actors at such a young age.
The computer had many of these files; I don’t even know how many pictures.
I didn’t know what to do. I called my aunt who lived in Huston who was my father’s only sibling and told her and only her. I knew she would be the only person I could tell without them freaking out. She ended up freaking out a little.
She told me that we needed to destroy everything. Penalties for that stuff were severe, and it would be crazy if those many files were discovered. If I took it to the police, they might have helped, but it might have easily gone the other way. My dad was dead so that it would be over with.
He had some burned CDs in the hundreds which also had the stuff on it. I looked at one and then broke all of the rest to be sure.
The computer I did not want to take any chances, I took it apart and took all the pieces out to a campground, broke them all with a sledgehammer, covered them with lighter fluid, twigs, and branches and lit it all on fire.
I made sure it was destroyed, spending several hours with the fire. It was both relieving and surreal what I was doing. I didn’t know what else to do.
So, that’s my story. I don’t think about him much, but when I do, I am disgusted that he was my dad.”
“My grandfather fought in World War II but passed away shortly after I was born, so I never got to know him. One day a few years back I was helping my dad clean out our attic when an old Japanese WW2 uniform fell out of a box along with some other items. I looked at my dad and said, ‘Did your dad take this home as a trophy?’
My dad looked back at me and sighed then shook his head, ‘Yes and no. He took it off a dead Japanese soldier, but not as a trophy. He used it to sneak into their bases and steal food for his men.’
Also, my grandmother had a beach house, and about the same time it ended up catching fire due to faulty wiring. When my dad, brother, and I went into the house to salvage what we could, I saw my dad frantically searching my grandmother’s room for something. He couldn’t find my grandfather’s purple heart. After tearing what was left of the room apart the only place we hadn’t looked was the dresser. The dresser was scorched and after struggling to get the thing open with a crowbar because the hinges had melted it finally gave way. Everything in that drawer was ruined except for my grandfather’s purple heart.”
Daddy’s Little Girl
“I was adopted by my dad. He had three daughters who were in their late teens/early 20s when he adopted me when I was 2 years old.
When he died last year, I helped his wife go through his things. While the two of us did this, his three daughters were making a list of the most expensive stuff he had and trying to come up with reasons they should have it. They’d always been like that, very into money and continuously borrowing money from our dad.
Which probably explains why, when we opened Daddy’s closet, it was filled with unopened, unused gifts from the three daughters. Nearly all of them still had price tags on them (left on to show him how much they spent on his gift). Just stacks and stacks of dust-covered things he never bothered to open. Also a lot of pictures of them they’d given him in expensive frames, all piled in the corner.
Then I opened the top drawer of his dresser. It was filled to the brim with things I had given him or made over the years. Everything was worn, from his handling or using them constantly.
Fingerprints all over the picture of us I had glued to a piece of wood and burned ‘Love you, Daddy’ all over the edge when I was 10.
A wallet I had made when my stepdad was into leatherworking, the seams busted, and the leather scuffed from so much use.
What seemed like every note, letter, and card I’d ever given him for every occasion known to man, all grimy and grease-stained from his opening and reading multiple times.
Every single school picture of me, all in a neat stack in the front corner. Plus pictures of me in frames around here and there on display.
After over 40 years of his daughters making me feel horrible for being adopted, continually hearing how I wasn’t his ‘real’ daughter like them… I found out after he died just how much he loved and appreciated me.”
That’s One Way To Kill Time
“My grandfather fought in World War II for Canada. He lost his hearing from being too close to artillery and was discharged from the military. There was a mistake on his paperwork, so he had difficulties returning to Canada. He traveled up and down the West Coast apparently starting several families, while my grandmother thought that he was still at war. He returned to her years later.
When he died, about 10 people from these families showed up to the funeral. One of them stole his dentures.”
Sassy, But Sad
“One of my friends killed himself earlier this year, and since his family lives out of state, it was up to us to clean his place. Honestly, it was a fun, amazing experience. The weekend before he died he texted me something like, ‘Being a responsible adult and buying scissors off Amazon because I don’t feel like going to the store,’ with a picture of a funny scissor review he’d read. We found an Amazon box with scissors in it, which made me laugh. He was a sardonic person, and we found all his college textbooks with these sarcastic, hilarious notes written next to various passages. We found a bunch of his college’s newspapers and discovered he’d written an advice column for it. His advice was hilariously brutal and sassy. I found a book I’d lent him that he’d never returned. It was ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ – a popular book that came out last year, but if you haven’t read it, one character is a blind nine-year-old orphan girl living in Nazi-occupied France. His review of the book, ‘It annoyed me, she was too needy.’ A blind orphan with no one to turn to who still learns how to make her way around a strange city and aid the resistance movement was too needy for him. We donated most of his clothes, but he was known for always wearing tanks, so we all chose one of his tanks to keep. I still wear it all the time. Oh, and we found a GIANT box of those troll dolls that were popular in the 90s. Like, dozens of them. None of us have any idea why he had a box of troll dolls.
We also found his journals. Just talking about how sad he was, how much he missed his mom (who died tragically in a car accident while driving to pick his brother up from rehab). How alone he felt. He’d read some of his high school journal to us while we were hanging out drinking one night, hilarious angsty teen stuff like his January 1st entry of, ‘It’s a new year… but nothing is different.’ The more recent ones showed how alone he still felt.
Oh and we found what he used to kill himself. He was a children’s hospice nurse (we found a note from his employer before he switched careers, joking ‘We’ll take you back when you realize being a nurse means you have to be nice to people’). He’d been found just laying in bed, but there was a syringe in the garbage, so we assumed he injected himself with something fatal. We found a bag of morphine in his room that he’d stolen from work. So that answered that question- we hadn’t gotten the tox screen back yet, so we still weren’t sure it was suicide.
That sounds depressing, but it’s honestly a beautiful memory, going through his stuff and laughing at the memories and the weird things we didn’t know about him, like his troll doll box and his newspaper advice column. We all went out to lunch after with his box of newspapers and passed them around reading his articles.”