Uncovering difficult to accept secrets when going through the possessions of a loved one who has died can be devastating.
Some people who are grieving the death of a loved one have discovered some complex secrets when clearing out their deceased loved one's personal belongings. For some, it may be that they find that their spouse or partner has been living a secret life.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Process Finding Out Shocking Secrets After a Loved One Dies
- How to Forgive a Deceased Loved One After Finding Out an Upsetting Secret
A widower might discover that the person they thought to be a loving and faithful life partner was having a years-long affair outside their marriage. Or, they might find some other more salacious secret involving an affair with a close friend or a hobby that may be considered taboo for them.
In other instances, the secret kept might be one of greater magnitude, such as the case of a secret criminal double life that a spouse was unaware of or a hidden family discovered through a will.
How to Process Finding Out Shocking Secrets After a Loved One Dies
What happens when someone dies and leaves behind a treasure trove of secrets to be later discovered by their survivors?
Finding out secrets after death can be painful and lead to feelings of resentment and distrust in everything a person once believed to be real. Although a person can't control the aftermath of discoveries made after they die, they can affect what's discoverable and what isn't so long as their death wasn't sudden and unexpected.
Leaving behind secrets to be discovered can create a lot of suffering in those affected by the discovery. Secrets and other distressing information revealed following someone's death can complicate and prolong the grieving process in those left behind. Unexpected and unwanted discoveries may create feelings of anger and resentment in the surviving spouse, children, and those linked to the kept secrets.
Processing this type of information may cause a bereaved person to get stuck in the earlier stages of grief, making it even more challenging to find healing after loss. If this has happened to you, the following steps may help you progress through your grief after discovering a loved one's secrets.
1. Allow yourself time to process the findings
In the event that you've uncovered some dark secret related to your loved one after their death, know that you're not alone. Many people die suddenly and unexpectedly without the chance to clean up their messes left behind. Others who die can leave secrets to be discovered, considered to be narcissists who don't care about what happens after they die.
An unexpected discovery may leave you in a state of shock, especially when you had no idea that your loved one harbored such secrets. Try to set aside the information to process it once things have settled down after a few days.
2. Ask yourself if it really matters
Sometimes we live in denial of many of the things we already suspect are happening with our loved ones. A parent might find out that their child is in an unhappy marriage. A spouse may already know that their partner is having an extramarital affair. Some things don't necessarily come as a shock or surprise when discovered after the person's death.
Before giving away too much of your power or emotional well-being, ask yourself how much the discovery affects you and your life now that your loved one's died. If it's only a matter of a bruised ego, consider letting things go.
3. Get help clearing out personal items
There are some discoveries that have the potential to ruin everything you considered real about your relationship with a deceased loved one. When a close family member hides significant aspects of their personal lives that have the potential to hurt others or change the course of their lives, it’s challenging to come to terms with these findings.
If you already know or suspect a potentially upsetting situation, enlist the help of close friends or family to help you sort through and clear out the deceased’s personal belongings. You can always go through them later.
4. Confide in a trusted friend or counselor
Living with the pain, betrayal, and humiliation of later discovered secrets can derail the grieving process causing it to stall for many years. Unresolved grief can turn into complicated grief when left untreated. You may want to seek help from a trusted friend to help you get through the most challenging days ahead.
Also, consider reaching out to a professional, a grief counselor, or therapist who can guide you through the healing process of both your grief and betrayal. You can expect your grief journey to get complicated as you sort through and make sense of this newly discovered information.
5. Seek answers when needed
Give yourself permission to seek out the truth and answers you need to find closure. Allow a few weeks for you to get through the initial phases of grief before piling on added stress to your pain and sorrow. There isn’t anything you can do to change the circumstances, and your loved one’s no longer around for you to question or get any answers from.
Depending on your discovery, there may not be anything else for you to find out or do about the situation. In those instances, ask yourself if getting to the bottom of things even makes a difference.
How to Forgive a Deceased Loved One After Finding Out an Upsetting Secret
Discovering secrets and struggling to forgive a loved one after they’ve died is all too common in many families. The combination of these shocking losses and discoveries can be devastating. For many survivors, the betrayal of trust seems almost unforgivable and is almost always unimaginable.
Forgiveness, however, is essential in moving on from past hurts to heal from them. This part of the mourning process is separate from the ordinary grief that follows a significant loss. Regardless, it’s a vital piece of the overall grief recovery process. Without forgiveness, it’s almost impossible to find closure and healing.
Learning to forgive someone who’s kept destructive secrets from you is challenging. Sometimes it can feel nearly impossible even to want to do it. Moving past the pain of betrayal after the death of a loved one largely depends on forgiveness and processing grief in productive and healthy ways. Here are some ways to consider when deciding on how to forgive someone who’s betrayed you.
6. Decide to forgive
The first step in forgiving someone who's broken your trust is deciding to forgive them. It would be best if you first concluded that you'd forgive and then embark on a journey to forgive. The process might be slow going, but eventually, you may find ways to let go of the pain and begin to heal from both the loss and the betrayal.
During the first few weeks and months, everything you thought about your life might seem like a sham. With time, all the pieces will start falling into place. Expect to repeat certain stages of grief like anger and disbelief.
7. Process any infidelities before mourning
When grieving the loss of a spouse or partner discovered to have been cheating, it helps to process the infidelity before processing their death. The unresolved trauma of finding out your partner was having an affair can definitely impede your ability to process your grief in a normal and healthy way.
Any unresolved findings can complicate the grieving process making it more challenging to get through. When you confront the issues stemming from your discoveries head-on, it helps you move past the pain of any betrayal so you can focus on healing from the loss of your loved one.
8. Read about other’s experiences
Finding out sordid details about a loved one’s double life post-death may leave you feeling confused and as if you’re the only one going through this. What you find out might leave you feeling ashamed, angry, and bitter at the discovery. Secrets that were supposed to be taken to the grave are not always about infidelity.
Sometimes those discoveries yield hidden second families, alternative lifestyles, criminal behaviors, or hidden drug use. Reading books about death can also open up your mind to all the possibilities of what other people have discovered and lived through after their loved one’s death.
9. Consider your loved one’s pain
Harboring lifelong secrets is usually a painful experience for many people. Not being able to open up to others about who they are or what’s going on in their personal lives creates a ripe environment for living a painful existence. Although whatever you discovered might feel like a personal attack on you, consider the pain, shame, or regret your loved one may have faced during their lifetime and that they carried through to their death.
Perhaps your loved one was doing the best that they could and decided to keep a part of their life hidden to avoid further pain to their loved ones.
10. Work through forgiveness
Forgiving someone takes time, patience, and practice. Just because you decide that you’ll forgive someone for the hurt and betrayal they’ve caused doesn’t mean that it’ll all go away from one day to the next. To truly forgive someone who’s hurt you, you’ll need to confront the source of the pain and betrayal.
It might mean having a conversation with the person they were having an affair with. Or, it might mean welcoming into your family any children birthed outside of the marriage. In other cases, it might mean learning to let go of the things that no longer suit you or that you can’t change.
Coping With a Deceased Loved One’s Secrets
There isn't a handbook that'll give you the guidelines on how survivors cope with painful discoveries after the death of a loved one. There are countless stories of secrets about love, loss, and betrayal discovered posthumously. In most cases, there's an overwhelming sense of betrayal that makes grieving so much more complicated.
When you think you can no longer survive mentally, emotionally, and physically, some new glimmer of faith and hope emerges from the depths of your sorrow. And as the saying goes, time has the power to heal all wounds.