Explaining a death is often an awkward business, especially when the people who must be told are young and/or relatives of the deceased. This is especially true of deaths that are the result of murder or suicide, when the facts of the matter are particularly unpleasant and distressing to relate. Thus, many characters in fiction who have lost parents or other loved ones will not hear the truth of the matter for a long period, and often a deception begun in their past
is revealed at a later date. In the meantime, the absence of the dead is attributed some form of accident or illness, so that there is no culprit to blame other than fate or bad luck. Car accidents are a favourite choice, since they are common.
The truth may surface during the hero's own investigations, undertaken because the hero questions the details of the story. An accidental slip by one of the other characters may plant the seed of doubt or even reveal key details. Sometimes those who know decide it is time for the hero to learn the truth, perhaps as part of a Coming of Age Story
Alternatively, deaths attributed to accident after an initial investigation (and presented as truly accidental in good faith) will later prove to have different causes. Perhaps the first investigation was hurried or botched in some way, or key evidence was unavailable to the investigators. In some cases, the hero is still in the angry stage of grieving
and insists on reopening the case, hiring a private detective or investigating the details personally.
In some cases, the loved one doesn't actually die, instead going into hiding
. This may be done under the auspices of an established program
, with the help of one or a few friends, or on their own. Once the truth is revealed (and assuming the danger has passed), they'll likely be reunited with the grieving character.
See also Deceptive Legacy
. May overlap with Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You
and Luke, I Am Your Father
. May also cause or overlap with Innocence Lost
, particularly for younger characters.
As this is a revelation trope, beware: unmarked spoilers ahead.
Anime and Manga
- Kohta from Elfen Lied was told that his sister died of an illness, but she was killed in front of him by Lucy.
- In the Spider-Man comics, Peter believed his had parents died in a car crash but it was later retconned that they were killed because they were secret agents and he had been lied to.
- Selene in Underworld believed that a pack of Lycans was responsible for killing her family. Near the end of the first film, it's revealed that the true culprit was Viktor.
- In the Lethal Weapon series, the wife of Martin Riggs, one of the protagonists, was said to have been killed in a car accident. Turns out in Lethal Weapon 2 that the "accident" in question was a deliberate hit-and-run by that movie's Big Bad that was meant to kill Riggs himself but got her instead.
- In Hot Rod, Rod's hero was his deceased dad, who he believed was a former stuntman for Evel Knievel, dying when he broke away to do his own stunts but the trick went wrong. Years later his mother admits to him that she had just let Rod believe his fantasies of his dad being a stuntman, and in reality his dad choked on a pie.
- Inverted in O Brother, Where Art Thou?: McGill finds out his wife has told his daughters that he got hit by a train, rather than tell them he was sent to jail.
- Star Wars: in A New Hope Luke was told by Uncle Owen that his father was a navigator on a spice freighter and died during the Clone Wars, and Obi-Wan Kenobi told him that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered his father. In The Empire Strikes Back Luke learns that Darth Vader is his father, from Vader himself. Luke was lied to so he wouldn't go in search of Darth Vader and get into trouble.
- On the in-universe eponymous TV show in the film The Truman Show, Truman Burbank was led to believe his father had drowned when he was a child. He later reappeared to the adult Truman.
- In The Town, Doug's mother turns out to have been a drug addict that committed suicide, as opposed to the story that his father tells him.
- Harry Potter lived in the knowledge that his parents have died in a car crash for 10 years, when it is revealed to him by Hagrid that they have in fact been killed by the Big Bad.
- Marco in Animorphs believed his mom died in a boating accident, but it was a cover so the Yeerks could get her away without a lot of questions.
- Harry Dresden's mom died giving birth to him, it's later revealed that this happened due to a curse laid by one of her enemies. Also it's implied at one point that his father's death wasn't entirely natural either.
- In Nightshade, Ren's mother died when he was a year old. He'd been raised to believe - in fact, all the Guardians believed - that she'd been killed by Searchers. Shay discovers that the Keepers have been hiding the truth: she'd led a rebellion against the Keepers, and, along with all the other Guardians involved in the rebellion, was executed as punishment.
- In the Lois Lowry World War II novel Number the Stars, we are told that Annemarie's older sister Lise was killed when she was hit by a car near the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Denmark. At the end of the book, Annemarie's parents tell her the truth: Lise was a member of La Résistance. She was hit by a car, but it was a car driven by Nazis who deliberately ran her down as she tried to flee from them.
- In The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, Sookie and her brother Jason were raised by their grandmother after both parents died during a flood. After discovering that their Gran actually had an affair with a fairy that resulted in their father's birth, it is revealed that a clan of water fairies were responsible for the deaths because their fairy ancestors had been at war for quite some time.
- In the book Letters to Leonardo, the protagonist, Matt, believes his mother's dead. She's not.
- In The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time, Christopher believes his mother died of a heart attack, even though he only has his father's word that she's dead. She's actually living somewhere else with someone else.
- In Lori R. King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel Locked Rooms, the protagonists visit San Francisco and delve into Mary's history. Her parents and younger brother died in a car crash a decade earlier which the police officials at the time filed as an accident, and Mary blamed herself, since she was arguing with her brother and thought she had fatally distracted her driving father. The curious terms of her father's will and a series of dreams prompt the couple to make fresh inquiries, and the accident proves to have been caused by sabotage to the car's brakes by a former friend of her father's.
- In Rainbows End, Robert Gu, Sr. discovers--though we knew it all along--that his wife hated him so much that she faked her own death (with the help of Friends of Privacy) when she learned that a cure for his advanced Alzheimer's had been found.
- In The Pretender, Jarod was told that his parents were killed in a plane crash; his discovery that they weren't is one of the things that prompts him to break out and start Walking the Earth.
- In Grimm Nick discovers that his parents' car crash 15(ish) years prior wasn't an accident, but rather an assassination.
- He later also finds out that his mother is still alive.
- Dexter believed Harry, his foster father and mentor, to have died of heart disease, but he was revealed to have committed suicide after seeing what Dexter was really capable of, and what he had trained him to do.
- In Into the Woods, the baker believes that his parents died in a "baking accident". This is lampshaded by the narrator who shrugs in confusion, implying "Hey, I just say what I'm told to." As it turns out, his mother died on the day Rapunzel was born, and his father ran off, too cowardly to face his son. Baking was not involved at all.
- In Secret Files: Tunguska it is implied that the death of Nina's mother was the result of her father's research, while Nina thought she had died in a car accident.
- That's what JC Denton from Deus Ex was told. They were, of course, put down for protesting the things that Bob Page was doing to young JC.
- In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness: Laharl believed that his father died choking on a dark pretzel, but in reality King Krichevskoy perished fighting Baal.
- In the second season of American Dragon Jake Long, Rose was convinced by the Huntsman that her parents died when she was a baby, but in the episode "Dreamscape", it was revealed that she was actually taken from them by the Huntsclan.
- The Simpsons: Grandpa Simpson told Homer that his mother had died, and pointed out her tombstone from time to time as they passed by the cemetery. Turns out that Mama Simpson is alive and hiding out from the Feds. The cemetery marker Grandpa points out is actually Walt Whitman's.