This post contains references to suicidal ideation.
The grieving process after a family member dies is complicated and, at times, unexpected. Sometimes you find yourself sifting through their past life and learning things about them that you never thought possible.
1."We all knew this one uncle had a second family. We expected drama at the funeral. No one was expecting his third family to show up. Wife. Three kids. This new family knew the rest of the family by name from pictures — how we are all related, names, hobbies. That was a wildly bizarre experience."
2."Cleaning out my grandpa's apartment, we found different pieces of a handgun scattered around. He struggled on and off with depression, and apparently he did it so that if he was thinking about suicide, he would have to go find all the parts and give himself time to talk himself out of it."
3."My elderly aunt had a hidden room with a staircase to a basement area that no one knew about. She and her son had a meth lab. This was in the 1990s, in Philly. It blew us all away."
4."When my husband died a few years ago, I found several notes and letters he had scattered in various places around our home, written to me in advance (he had terminal cancer and knew he was dying). Some were marked, 'Open when you can't stop crying,' 'Open when the holidays are too rough,' and 'Open when you have to put one of the cats to sleep.' They didn't contain any secrets, but they are heartbreakingly beautiful."
5."My grandfather, who spoke English as a third language, was a bit of a hoarder. Lots of old shit stockpiled in his basement but well organized. Everything was sanitized, stacked and nested, and grouped logically. It was like the stockroom for a store that wasn't yet sure what products it was selling and wanted to be ready. So we found a cylindrical black plastic film container that was kinda heavy for its size, and it had the label, 'OLD PENIS.' Hesitant but curious, we removed the lid. It contained a collection of 1-cent pieces that had been minted in the first half of the 20th century. Part of me was disappointed, part of me was relieved."
6."My dad kept a handwritten note in his wallet containing my mom’s old address, phone number, and directions to her house from when they started dating in the '70s. He had moved it from wallet to wallet over the years. He just died this past March, and that was one of the first things we found."
7."My stepgrandma had been married five more times than she told my grandpa she had been. He was her ninth husband, not her fourth."
8."Grandpa did drawings of the faces of the people he killed in World War II. Nobody knows why, but my grandma said he had a lot of guilt over the things he saw, so my guess is he didn't want to forget them or didn't feel that he should be allowed to forget them."
9."I'm African American and my husband is white. My father faced a lot of prejudice during his lifetime, and I was terrified of telling him that I was getting serious with the 'white guy' I'd been on a date or two with. The first time I brought my now-husband home, my dad was courteous but distant. Miraculously, by the second time, my father literally gushed all over my husband. When we got married, he was beaming. My father died in 2021. When my siblings and I cleaned out the house, we found letters that my husband had written to my father about how he felt about me, how he was serious about his relationship with me, how he respected that my father had gone through so much in his lifetime, and how he was going to propose. My husband never told me he'd written my father, and my father never told me he'd been corresponding with my husband. When I got home, my husband finally showed me the letters my father had written back."
10."A diary with only a few entries from my uncle who lived alone. One of the entries was about how sad he was to have never met anyone or had children, and how lonely he was. It broke my heart."
11."My dad hid money all over the house. Not huge amounts, mind you, but $60 here, $120 there. It felt like a bit of a scavenger hunt when we were cleaning out his stuff. He was always a bit of a sneakily generous guy, and he always gave my brothers and me a secret handshake with money tucked in his palm when we’d go back to school after a weekend home, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d done it intentionally. It made us smile every time we found some. I think the final total was somewhere around $800."
12."That my father killed himself and did not die of a heart attack. He was a cop under investigation for theft and took the quick way out."
13."My nan had about a platoon's worth of American servicemen's photos tucked away..."
14."I found my grandparents' wedding certificate, which didn’t match the date everyone else had. Their ‘original’ date was nine months before my aunt was born. The certificate was dated about five months before she was born."
15."While cleaning out my grandparents' house after they passed away, we found a booklet on sexual anatomy, a penis eraser, a penis that my grandma had crocheted, with walnuts in the 'nut sack,' and a drawing my grandpa did of my grandma wearing nothing but a feather boa."
16."We found out that my grandmother climbed Mount Rainier in a woolen skirt. Summit and all."
17."My dad passed away in 1994, when I was 28. While going through his safe, I found some adoption papers. I got excited at the prospect I might have a brother out there somewhere (I was raised as an only child), but I couldn't understand why my parents never told me that they'd adopted a child. After rereading them, I realized that the papers were about me. After confronting my family about this, it turned out that everyone — family, close friends, everyone — knew I was adopted. Except me. That was a fun day."
18."After my grandfather died, I asked my dad to quietly go through his dad's bedroom while I took my grandmother out to lunch. I explained that Granddad might have racy magazines around that would be upsetting to Grandma if she found them — so just be a good son and save your mom from that. When we got back, my dad was nearly hysterical, half laughing and half barfing, and pulled me into the garage to debrief. Apparently, my grandfather wasn't exactly the devout Catholic he had appeared to be. And what my poor father had found in the bedside table was a stack of cheesecake pictures — of his own mother."
19."Nan was rich as fuck. She left 90% of her money to a dog charity. It didn't bother me, but my cousins still haven't gotten over it."
20."We found out that my parents were getting back together. Dad died at 50; Mom was devastated. She died at 49 three months later. I cleaned out both of their homes and found calls, texts, and love letters. They wanted to be together again but didn't want to put their kids and grandkids through a reconciliation until they were confident it would work out. I knew she'd be devastated. They'd been together almost 30 years, but they were two years divorced and casually seeing other people. They seemed to be thriving apart. So it was a shock when the grief was so strong that it took all the life out of her. The only thing worse than losing my dad was watching my mom live without him, so at the end of the day, I'm grateful she didn't live without him for long. She never would have had peace here again. She found her peace with him on the other side."
Got your own stories? See you in the comments!
Note: Some of these entries have been edited for length and/or clarity.
Dial 988 in the US to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).