When a relative dies, especially an older one, there’s an inevitable – and oftentimes heartbreaking – task that often goes along with it: cleaning out their home.
Do I really want to know what grandpa had buried deep in his closet? Hmmm…
It doesn’t all have to be sad though. And the people who clean out these homes aren’t always family members.
Recently on an AskReddit thread, people shared their experiences and here are a some of the most touching, surprising and heartbreaking.
Get your hankies out. There will be tears.
My grandma’s house had money EVERYWHERE.
Every purse had at least $100 cash. Suitcases had a few hundred more. Every coffee can or other container in her kitchen had rolls of money. There were even bags of frozen veggies in the freezer that had been split open and money hidden inside.
And her bank accounts…thousands upon thousands of dollars.
No one had any idea, she lived so simply and never spent a dime on anything unnecessary. I’m sure her financial paranoia was due to growing up in the Great Depression.
It made for the best scavenger hunt ever, though.
My dad’s grandmother was a huge hoarder. When she died, he had to go clear out the house, which was no easy task. My dad always tells us about how you couldn’t even see the walls of the house because of the amount of stuff she had lying around, and how she looked so tiny walking around in the little hallways she managed to make in between all kinds of objects.
After several days of trying to clear out the house, my dad finally made it to her bedroom. It was completely filled with all kinds of things, ranging from like 20 kinds of brooms to several harps she had bought during her long trips to Europe. He found all kinds of surprising stuff, but the one that ended up being the craziest one was a letter.
He found it in her bedside table, and it caught his attention because of the wax seal and what was written on the envelope “To be opened by my daughter, only after my death”. My dad called his mom immediately, since she was his grandmother’s only daughter. After getting her permission, he opened the envelope and found a letter and a birth certificate.
In the letter, his grandmother explained how she was never able to have children, and how ashamed she and her husband always felt (big Catholics, beginning of 20th century Mexico). She always wanted to have a child, so they decided to take a very long trip through Europe, from which they would come back with a baby. This baby was my dad’s mom, who always looked a bit different from her family (as white as it can be, bluest eyes you’ve ever seen). They found her in an orphanage run by some nuns in the north of France and immediately fell in love with her. Adoption was a big taboo at the time, so no one ever knew about it. The story they told was that she had gotten pregnant during their trip and had given birth to the baby in Europe. They brought her back to Mexico and registered her as a new born, even though she was already several years old.
My grandmother lived all her life thinking she was her parent’s biological daughter. At 45, through a letter, she found out that she was adopted, that she was actually older than what she always thought and that she was actually French, not Mexican.
My dad had to tell her all of this through the phone, while trying to understand a birth certificate written in French. My grandma eventually ended up hiring a private investigator and finding her family in France, but that’s another story.
My grandmother passed after a blood clot incident. She had several conditions that no doubt led up to this. For example, her medical team decided not to treat her breast cancer because they figured she would die before it would spread.
My father, uncle, and my sisters were left to clean out her things from her apartment. She had a lot of old, expired food. Like ketchup that had gone completely black. We found things from when she was well and social, like her quilting and handmade soaps, which were beautiful. She has a quilt that had the names of all of our family, but the names were sewn in the individuals handwriting style.
However, one day it was just my dad and me going through her bedside table. We found her journal. Toward the end, all of the entries were about how lonely she was, how she only got to see her grand children twice a year, and how her own children never saw her unless they needed something. She said she wanted to die. My dad threw it away so his brother would never have to see it.
So, um, yeah. Go hug a grandparent.
When my mother was killed by her ex-husband, I was one of the people tasked with packing our house.
He stalked her, and would break into the house often. My mother knew but no one else did. As a result, when we were taking things down, like pictures and such, we would find things hidden behind them. Items such as checkbooks to hidden bank accounts from him, or even worse, notebooks full of dates and accounts of events where he would engage her (she had a restraining order on him).
Usually these engagements, according to the notebook, were awful. Tires being slashed, her being followed and him coming up to her on day to day events berating her.
The thing is though, she kept it all secret from the family. What makes it so hard is if she would have told everyone of these things, she might still be here today.
Mortician here, did “crime scene” cleanups for a while.
Usually cleaning up after a suicide was always very eerie. We would usually find more suicide notes, or drafted ones. One of our rules apart from the actual cleanup was to throw out any of their toiletries and things the family wouldn’t need or want like clothing, etc.
Always thought handling someone’s toothbrush who’s pool of blood lay next to you was so weird. I’m very desensitized to my work of course but just seeing photos, handwriting or whatever object that reminded us of the deceased knowing they had just taken their own life right there next to you tended to bother me.
I’ll always remember one guy who had slit his wrists in his bedroom and bled all over the damn place. He had left over 10 pages of personalized notes in his bedside table addressed to every person he knew closely. Going through them and reading them was really intense.
My best friend was killed in a car accident when he was 15.
I was like another son to his parents and a few weeks after his death, his mother asked me to come over to help go through his things, mainly because we basically treated our clothes as one gigantic wardrobe and half the stuff in his closet was mine, including the shirt he was wearing when he was killed.
When we first went into his room, his mom said to me, “You have 10 minutes to remove anything you don’t want me to see.” and she handed me a duffel bag. I shut the door behind me, pulled out his sock drawer and took out the dime bag I had stashed there.
Then I lifted his mattress and grabbed the two Penthouse magazines and the video my brother gave us. I zipped up the bag and opened the door.
Together we went through his stuff, me grabbing my clothes and her giving me his clothes that she knew I wore all of the time.
After a few minutes, I decided to play some music. I turned on his stereo and hit play on the cassette player and Journey’s “Faithfully” starts playing. After a few seconds, dubbed over the song, is my friends voice, saying mushybyhings to this girl he’s been crushing on since 8th grade. I listen for a minute then I just bust out laughing. That shit was so corny that I couldn’t help it.
Once I started laughing, his mom starts laughing and crying at the same time. It was the first time she had laughed since the accident and later in, she said it was a turning point for her in her grieving process. To me, it was my best friend just being goofy over some girl.
I still think about him almost every day even though it’s been 31 years.
This one is actually kind of heartwarming…
My dad was a pretty reserved guy. While I knew in my heart he would lay down and die for me without a moment’s hesitation, he never said “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or anything like that. It’s just who he was.
After he died of cancer, we went to his office to clear it out. I’d never really been in his actual office since, on the rare occasions I’d see him at work, he’d usually meet me at reception.
Well, when we went in there, it was practically a shrine to me and my sister. Every certificate, photo, newspaper clipping, program, etc. was hung up on the walls of his office. A number of people came by to pay their respects as we were clearing things out and, again and again, I heard “he was so proud of you.” “I’ve heard so many things about you, it’s nice to meet you in person.” “You were so special to your father. He spoke the world of you.”
Honestly, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Definitely one of the more bittersweet moments in my life…
RIP, Dad. Miss you…
My grandma died when I was 16 after getting cancer for the third time. My grandad moved into a smaller apartment and my cousins and I helped to clean out their house. (A side note… There are 9 of us, aged at the time from 12 – 26).
In the house, we found more than 20 wrapped presents and envelopes of money, addressed to all of us. They were for the big occasions that she knew she wouldn’t live to see us have.
Before she had died, she had organised 21st birthday presents for those of us who weren’t yet 21, engagement presents, and wedding presents, each with a card written by hand.
I remember being so overwhelmed with emotion. She was an incredible woman who loved her family dearly and wanted to celebrate her grandchildren, even if she couldn’t be there herself.
We did wait to open the presents. Many are still unopened. I recently got married, and I opened a present full of linen. A few tea towels and towels, which grandma had embroidered herself, as well as some antique lace doileys that had belonged to her mother. It was very special, and quite surreal.
My dad is a cop who worked a case where this man who committed suicide had only one relative alive, his son. The son had cut off all talk as soon as he turned 18, 20 or more years ago. The son called my dad when he got to the house asking for assistance. He sounded pretty upset on the phone so my dad raced over as soon as he could.
The father was an alcoholic with little education and worked a factory job he got with no high school degree. He was believed to be not-so-smart for lack of better term.
They stepped into the house to find HUNDREDS of books. Towering stacks, rooms full, furniture covered with books. All varying subjects from fiction to how-to. And in the front of each book was what the man had learned from it, almost like a summary.
The son was blown away, he couldn’t believe what his father had been doing with the last decades of his life. The books are going to be donated, the books the son didn’t pack up and ship to read himself.
Another thing: The son is smart as a whip. Now he knows where he gets it from.
Helping my mom sort through her cousin’s belongings, it quickly became obvious that her cousin had led a lonely, yet eclectic life. In between beautiful pieces of modern art and Louis Vuitton luggage was stacks of letters that were never mailed and odd collections of random items.
I came across a small cardboard box taped closed and labeled with “James” written in marker on the outside. I shook the box a bit, noting that felt full and was relatively heavy.
I turned to my mom and told her that I thought her cousin meant for this box to go to someone named James, to which my mom said, “Oh no, honey, James is what is IN the box. Well, after he was cremated.”
Yep, my mother’s cousin lived for years with her BFF James’s ashes just hanging out in a cardboard box next to her luggage.
I quickly dropped the box of the complete stranger’s ASHES and decided I had enough of packing for that day.
Sadly, more than 20 years later, my family still thinks it is humorous to label gifts to me in boxes with a “James” written in black marker.
When my dad died of lung cancer we found this really cool puzzle box.
He had JUST died and my closest relatives and I were gathered around as I solved the puzzle box to open it. We get it open and we found none other than a ton of pot.
Was hilarious and awkward at the same time. But even better than that I found my two siblings he hid from the family for years. We’re actually all currently sitting on the couch together.
So, thanks you old hippie. RIP.
My Dad was the only living relative in this state for my great uncle who was a hoarder. We found so many things in that 700 sq. Ft house…it was awful.
We can start with the McDonalds bag with French fries from 1976 (Had the receipt in the bag, that’s why we knew the date), condoms that expired in the 80s hidden in books, VHS porn, a non working toilet filled with feces (He had no running water for at least 10 years- he covered the toilet with a trash bag and duct tape), milk jugs filled with piss (we are talking about 30+), dead trash pandas, dead mice, cockroaches, and a ton of collectible items from flea markets.
In case you’re wondering why we even bothered, there was almost $100,000 of a coin and bill collection, random money stuffed everywhere, random money orders not made out to anyone, and a ton of other miscellaneous things that were worth big money.
So, hazmat suits and all, we all braved the disgustingness and cleared out the house and garage.
My husband and I cleaned out my grandma’s house after she passed, she was a big time hoarder but luckily of the “pack rat” variety so everything was neatly packed away in thousands of boxes and drawers. It took us nearly 3 weeks to get everything out of the house and we found so many things that I had never knew my grandma had done.
She built a boat with her first fiancé prior to marrying my grandpa, she travelled the world making friends with some of the most interesting people like a legit member of African royalty whom she had a long lived penpal friendship.
Among the cool memories we found beautiful jewelry, dresses that she had kept for us as gifts that we never received. I also found out that my dad had been a baby model for sears through the newspaper clippings she kept.
It was an emotional, wild ride for those 3 weeks. Her three sons sold most of the non-keepsake items in a garage sale and made nearly $4,000, all things priced under $5 so you can imagine how much stuff she had accumulated through out the years.
She was the coolest, spunkiest grandma and I miss her everyday but I am glad I got to learn so much more about her through her collections (or junk as my dad would call it).
My boss’s father died from cancer I helped him clean out his trailer.
Under a loose panel was a safe. There was no sign of any combination written anywhere. It sounded like there was something in there, like maybe envelopes of cash (wishful thinking is powerful).
It took about an hour and a half to get it open with an axe and a sledgehammer.
It was so ridiculously difficult to get it open but once we did….
…it was a dozen fleshlights.
Somewhat related to the thread but my grandma never got to help clear out her parents’ home after her mother’s death. She and my grandpa moved several states away to live with grandpa’s family, and when her mother died she didn’t have the time/money to return home for the funeral. She only got to go several months after the fact, when the clearing had already been done. She had a list of things that she’d wanted to keep from the house – like some of her mother’s crochet projects, some dishware, some antiques and various other knickknacks. But her brothers and sisters had all either claimed them or sold them off. I think she managed to talk her brother out of a couple pieces of silverware and I think a vase or two came from one of her sisters, but that was it.
That is until she went to her sister’s house and she saw that her sister had their mother’s flour bowl – a wooden bowl that her father had carved that was covered with a cloth to keep the weevils out. Great gramma had apparently really loved it and, since this is a southern family we’re talking about, she used it pretty much daily making biscuits or other baked goods. However, this great aunt had absolutely no baking talent at all, never baked anything in her life. Gramma asked her what she was gonna do with the flour bowl if she didn’t bake.
“Well I’m gonna use it as a planter, of course!”
After what I have to imagine was a pretty nasty fight, gramma walked away with that flour bowl and took it back home with her and has since used it pretty much every day for its intended purpose. She’s already promised it to me when she dies.
Wow, just the title of this thread has stirred up memories of things I’ve tried to bury.
I had a cousin who committed suicide at 12 years old (he was only 12. Ugh!). This was a kid that was always a bit of a loner and kind of a book worm but also seemed smarter than other kids and was very mature for his age. Always very polite but quiet and would spend more time watching than participating in anything. There certainly didn’t seem like there was anything that would cause him to end how own life. His family seemed close and normal. Maybe a bit more religious than some but I don’t recall them being over the top with it. It did turn out that he was bullied quite a bit at school. I guess it was because he never fought back, wasn’t very big and had no close friends that would stand up for him. It was the time before the whole anti-bullying movement had gotten anywhere so I’m not sure if his parents or anyone else would ever know how bad it was.
About 3 months after his death, both his parents started to suggest to my parents that I should be the one to go through his room. I was 18 at the time and since my cousin and I weren’t that close, I guess his parents thought I would have an easier time with it.
When I look back at it, I am am VERY glad I was the one who did it but I also wish I hadn’t gone anywhere near his room. His parents were religious and I suspect that they not only wanted to avoid the pain of going through his stuff but wanted to avoid finding anything that would taint their view of their angelic, well-behaved child. (porn. I am talking about porn here)
I agreed to do it.
I started separating all his stuff. Clothes, toys, books, keepsakes that I though his parents might want to save, etc. As I got deeper into his closet I suspected (hoped?) I might actually find a porn stash and sure enough, there in the back under a bunch of old books in the bottom of a box I found a smaller, flatter box that was magazine sized. SCORE!
Not so much. There was no porn. There was however lots of loose papers, a sketchbook and some Polaroids. This was in the 90’s so there was no such things as internet porn for a family of religious people that didn’t own a computer. Nor were digital cameras a thing. But there were instant cameras and my cousin had one.
I started to go through the papers which were all drawings and sketches. I think at first my mind wasn’t processing what I was looking at. It took me a bit before I realized what my cousin had been drawing. It was all drawings of torture and grisly murder scenes. Some detailed some just gory. Nasty nasty shit. Boys, girls, adults, babies, animals, it was all there. Poorly drawn but still horrific to see. I flipped through the sketchbook and it was more of the same. Sometimes there was occult-like stuff but not very often. I do remember a few pages all in a row that had the words “am I the devil?” written in it over and over.
At this point I did NOT want to look a the photos but I did anyway. My cousin had apparently escalated beyond just drawing pictures. The photos were of cats, birds and who knows what else that had been tortured and killed. Fucking horrible, horrible images that I wish I could unsee. I am almost in tears again just thinking about it and this was over 20 years ago.
Anyway, I packed up the box and left with it before talking to or seeing anyone in the house. I found a dumpster behind a grocery store and tossed it in. In hindsight I probably should have burned it all but oh well.
I never told his parents or anyone else about it. It wasn’t out of any sense of decency. I just wanted to forget about what I had seen or at least pretend I hadn’t found it for my own sake. So I let everyone continue to think it was the bullying that pushed him over the edge. It may well have been but I wonder if part of it was because he saw what he was becoming and decided to stop himself before things got worse.
I work in a retirement community. When someone passes and has no family, a company comes in about a week later and indiscriminately throws everything in the trash. Since I have a master key, I try to slip into these vacant units and rescue significant items before this happens. I’m not a materialist and definitely not a looter… everything I take gets donated to local charities, the church the person belonged to, the historical society, etc.
I’ve found some pretty interesting stuff. Coin and stamp collections, drugs and paraphernalia, sex toys, porn collections, military service records (the most notable being from Nazi Germany), guns and explosives… you name it. Elderly folks have lived lives no less adventurous than those of us who aren’t to that point yet.
But the first time I read a diary was heartbreaking, and I’ll never do it again. I never grew “attached” to any of the residents as I’m something of an introverted loner, but Mary was my favorite person living there. She would always manage to find me when I was working and strike up a conversation rife with dirty jokes, she’d offer me a drink when I came by to change her lightbulbs or smoke alarm batteries, and although I do small favors in my spare time for the people living here – changing walker bearings, for instance – she would offer to take me out for a meal as a thank you unlike everyone else. Mary seemed to be the liveliest of all the residents and it blew my mind that she was single (retirement community residents often hook up or otherwise pair off).
Mary’s diary was actually a series of a dozen books, documenting her life all the way from her early 20s up through the day before she died. She had pictures of herself throughout the years – including nudes – within the pages. The pictures of Mary in her prime remain the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Her writing was powerful. Moving. And as she aged her articulation improved and stirred something within my soul.
As I read her diary I felt an eerie closeness to her… much like myself Mary was introverted and something of a loner, yet spent her whole life pining to find her soul mate. She wrote hundreds of sorrowful, romantic poems which frequently brought tears to my eyes. There were detailed accounts of her Femdom lifestyle and kinky interests, lamentations about how culture predisposed strong women to a life of struggle, and up until her 50s the constant hope that she’d find a man willing to submit fully to her leadership. On her 52nd birthday she gave up that hope and resigned to being alone for the rest of her life.
Her heart just wasn’t in it after that. She started skipping weeks in her diary. Even entire months. Mary’s writing warped from a beautiful portrait of her life to a cold obligation. It hurt to see that change; where something she loved had continued solely out of habit.
But like a tree in the spring, that passion bloomed again in the last two years of her life. She wrote thousands of words about a much younger man who was attractive, kind, smart, funny, and both confident and shy at the same time. How that combination of traits reignited a fire within her that had been snuffed out decades ago. The sexuality she expressed in her writing at this point makes me blush even just thinking about it now. She never named him… but the breath of vigor returning to her writing coincided with the month I began working here.
I still don’t know how I feel about it. Flattered… incredibly sad… lonely… angry at the cruelty of time’s twisted little games. Mary was the woman of my dreams who just happened to be born 50 years too early, and I never even knew such an amazing human being existed until she was already gone. I’m glad that I was able to bring a bit of sunshine into her life toward the end, but if I’d have known she fancied me so I feel like there could have been more.
I befriended an older gentleman who had zero family or friends.
He moved into our area and I struck up conversation with him after Church one particular Sunday. We kept in touch regularly for about 3 years. I would take him to Doctor appointments and the like and I think he enjoyed having someone around to keep an eye on him.
He was struck down with pneumonia pretty bad and as I was the only person in his mobile phone the hospital rang me to let me know he was pretty low. It’s an amazing thing to watch someone die and I’m glad he had someone around to be there with him.
Afterward, as I was the only contact, I was asked by his solicitor if I would clean out his apartment. So off I went.
I found his Will and a few other documents. He wasn’t a millionaire or anything but he had a few rare coins, $50k in a bank account and over $300k in shares. His Will said that it was to be divided up between certain charities and other groups. However what was in his diary was the real kicker. He was to have an appointment with his solicitor the following week after he died to make changes to his will to make me the sole beneficiary of his estate.
I simply pretended not to see it and move on to his old photo box that contained pictures of him in drag.
Amazing as he was a very devout gent.
My Great Uncle was a loving man.
He and my Great Aunt owned a couple horses, and every morning he would open the window and call to them, (in horse speak of course), they would always answer back.
They lived in Casper, Wyoming. Back in the 50’s, he had worked in the oil fields, and came home filthy with it, every day.
My Great Uncle loved people. When the space station Mir was about to burn up and re-enter, he had all the neighborhood over to his place to watch it one last time. He had a small Christmas tree in his living room, year round, upon which he hung pictures of friends he was currently praying for. If you met the man, you could not leave without him giving you a Susan B Anthony Quarter and a buckeye, which was to remind you to be tough, but always say your prayers (this isn’t one of those “we tied an onion to our belts, as was the style at the time” things, he meant it with all the love he had to give, which was a lot.)
I was about 8, and pretty clueless, but my Great Uncle Gordon showed me and my sister something that kept both of our attention. He liked to collect eclectic things, one of which was authentic Chinese furniture. He explained to us that on every piece of authentic Chinese furniture, there are hidden compartments, for either deeds, money or other contraband the communist government wanted to destroy. He had 3 pieces of real furniture and it was one of the greatest puzzles of my childhood trying to find the secret compartments.
Being 8, I didn’t know until my dad told me decades later; that Uncle Gordon was very sick. The years of working in oil had him growing metastatic cancer all over his lungs (he was not a smoker a day in his life), and he was in constant, agonizing pain. He still loved people so much, while probably wishing he could just die.
A couple years later, he did. We went up for the funeral, and afterwards, when we went to his house, I ran into his bedroom, because I had to find the last secret compartment.
And I did.
Inside, I found $5000 cash, in $20 bills, and a letter from my Uncle on National Hemlock Society letterhead. It was written to whoever found it that he was tired of hurting so much, every day. He explained that he went to Mexico a couple years before with my Great Aunt and purchased enough nitro glycerin pills to stop his heart. And he did it. I don’t think he told my Great Aunt.
I didn’t realize it then, but my Great Uncle shaped how I feel about physician assisted suicide in that moment; maybe suicide as a whole. I believe in God, and I do not believe that God would turn away my Uncle Gordon. He was a man deserving of rest, and comfort.
Anyways, I just hope someone sees this, so many of these things just get buried, and my Great Uncle deserves more than that. Thanks for reading.
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