Sometimes, the character is really Killed Off for Real. Corpse and Meaningful Funeral and everything.
Someone has to go through their belongings, packing them off to their family or what have you. There are surprises, usually — of every stripe, from the good to the horrifically bad — though sometimes it just grieves the character doing it. Perhaps because so little is left of the dead person, which may make him reflect that he will never know him now, perhaps merely because of the reminder.
Often contains a photograph, similar to the Fatal Family Photo, but in this case, the character will obviously be unable to ask who is in it. Adds a bittersweet note to the discovery.
Another version of this trope is when someone is searching a dead enemy soldier and discovers his family photo, reminding him (and the audience) that these people were something other than Faceless Mooks.
Contrast If You Die I Call Your Stuff — this trope demonstrates the respect Due to the Dead. Removing stuff from the body includes only what is culturally acceptable to remove; otherwise, see Robbing the Dead.
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Anime and Manga
It's not death (she's just been fired) but a very important scene in RahXephon is when Megumi is sent to pick up Haruka's old stuff from her office, and finds a certain picture there...
Although there's no reveal, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED gets great effect from having Natarle order Sai to pack up the personal effects of Kira and Tolle after they are declared MIA following a mid-series Wham Episode.
Also, in Destiny, Lacus has an experience similar to this trope with the photo of the pre-plastic surgery Meer, after the latter dies.
Rurouni Kenshin: After the death of his first wife Tomoe, a depressed Kenshin reads through her diary and comes across an entry that explained the death of her fiance, Akira. Seeing that name reminds Kenshin of the man he had slain months earlier as Tomoe's first love - and that Kenshin himself was the man who had killed her first shot at happiness, which makes him all the more depressed.
In C The Money Of Soul And Possibility Control, Kimimaro was looking through his father's things and found a book. This book revealed that his father had been an Entre and has a picture of his mother holding him as a baby. It showed that his father did care for him.
In Mai-Otome, after Erstin dies when Nina destroys her Slave while trying to attack Arika, Miss Maria finds a letter in her possessions addressed to Arika and Nina, and gives it to Nina. The letter reveals that while she was a Schwarz agent at the school and her mother warned her not to get close to anyone, she found herself becoming close to her friends. She then says that despite this, she couldn't go against them in the end, but believes that Arika and Nina are stronger than she is. Nina, disagreeing with this, breaks down in tears.
In Bleach, Sosuke Aizen, after apparently being killed, leaves a letter behind for his lieutenant Momo Hinamori, which Rangiku says is a great honor for a lieutenant. He's actually trying to manipulate her into getting killed by Hitsugaya, since (he claims) he can't bring himself to kill her himself.
In the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, two Ishvalan boys have one of their mother's effects in their possession for a while before realizing what it is. The revelation that eye medicine is inside her locket gives her running into their room when soldiers came an entirely new meaning; she was unable to see them and was trying to confirm that they were safe when she was killed.
In Bakuman。, Moritaka Mashiro, looking through his uncle Nobuhiro's office, finds an old yearbook and realizes that the woman Nobuhiro was in love with is the the mother of Miho Azuki, whom Moritaka loves.
In one issue of the The Avengers, Jarvis remembers going through the dead Swordsman's effects and finding a picture of a couple. He presumed it was his parents, but he could not even tell if they were alive or dead.
In the "Sin-Eater" story of Spider-Man, Spidey is checking out the home of his murdered friend, police captain Jean DeWolff, for clues and finds her collection of Spider-Man photos. He's quite cut up to realise that she apparently had something of a crush on him and this fuels his anger when he finds her murderer and comes this close to beating him to death.
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy meets an untimely death at the hands of Carnage, and Peter and MJ clear out her high school locker shortly after the situation is resolved.
In The Sandman arc Brief Lives, Bernie Capax's son realizes he didn't know his father at all when he discovers his stash of expensive art, drugs, weapons, and fake passports after his death.
Variation in Watchmen: Rorschach's rooting around in Edward Blake's apartment after his murder turns up the fact that he was the Comedian. The plot kicks off from there.
In the beginning of Memphis Belle, the airmen go through a dead crewman's effects to make sure nothing embarrassing gets sent back to his wife (like adult books or letters to a mistress).
On Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as Eddie Valiant remembers his late brother Teddy, the camera pans over Teddy's desk, perfectly preserved since his death. On it are items like a scrapbook of news clippings of their cases involving toons and photos of them acting goofy, which contradict everything the audience knows about Valiant up to this point. (Note that in this case, it's the audience doing the discovering, not another character, and that the revelations also apply to a living character, not just the deceased.)
This happens in Bullitt as Bullitt and Del go through the dead couple's suitcases and realize why both were killed.
Happens twice in Taking Chance: First when the mortician takes all of the items Chance had with him when he died and carefully cleans the blood off, and again later when Chance's family receives the belongings.
A brutal one in Once Were Warriors. After the daughter Grace hangs herself, her mother finds the notebook Grace uses as a diary, which her father had ripped in half in a rage. The mother pieces it back together, and reads in it that shortly before her death, Grace had been raped by one of her father's friends.
Much of what prompts Michael Noonan in ''Bag of Bones" to suspect that his late wife was keeping secrets from him came from various personal effects of hers (a home pregnancy testing kit, plastic owls, desk calendar entries) he finds after her death.
In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000Horus Heresy novel Horus Rising when Captain Loken goes through Jubal's effects, he finds a badge of a lodge. Loken deeply disapproving of the notion of lodges, this leads to some complications.
In James Swallow's The Flight of the Eisenstein, Garro finds that the bolter given to him had belonged to his dead comrade Pyr Rahl; he reflects on how the Death Guard pass on their effects from one man to the next, to remember the dead. Then he sees the belongings of his dead housecarl Kaleb, which no one else would want to claim. Though tempted to throw it all out and so be free, that would be ignoble. He goes through it, and finds that Kaleb belonged to the cult that worshipped the Emperor. It makes a great many things about him make sense.
In Faulkner's short story A Rose for Emily, inhabitants of a small Southern town find her husband's possessions (she bought for him for their wedding) after her death. Their long since deceased owner is still technically present...
All Quiet on the Western Front has a couple of these - one where Paul Bäumer goes through the wallet of a French soldier he killed, and the other where he returns home and to his old room, and it's like it belongs to a completely strange person who in effect is no more. And near the end he also goes through Kat's stuff after he dies.
In the Hercule Poirot mystery Murder in Mesopotamia, Anne Johnston, cleaning up the papers in the office after the murder of Louise, discovers early drafts of the death threats sent to Louise. The drafts were obviously written by Louise's husband.
In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, one of the main character's coworkers has to go through his stuff and notes how empty his apartment was.
Also apt to happen when coping with deceased characters in the Aunt Dimity series. A few examples:
In addition to finding the correspondence between her mother and Dimity, Lori also finds a heart-shaped locket in a box with an initial on the lid. She mistakes the letter for a "W" for Dimity's surname, when it was actually an "M" for Bobby MacLaren's. He gave Dimity the locket when he proposed marriage.
Fr. Bright and Lori go through the knapsack that was found on the vagrant who collapsed in the cottage's driveway. They follow the clues in the military decorations and other items to learn more about the man, who proves to be Christopher Anscombe-Smith, known as "Kit".
In Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, when Lori enters Miss Beacham's apartment in response to her dying instructions, she is shocked to find the flat opulently furnished with antiques. She also finds a family photo album that shows the gradual decline of Miss Beacham's family.
Ruth and Louise Pym find a letter from their older brother announcing the birth of his son many decades after the deaths of their brother (who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915) and their parents. This find prompts them to ask Lori to locate their brother's family before they die.
Lori and Cameron enter the apartment of the recently deceased A.J. and Edmund Pym in search of information on them and Edmund's daughter Bree. They find some old family photographs of Aubrey senior and his wife, Aubrey and A.J. at A.J.'s baptism, as well as Edmund, his wife, and young Bree herself.
In A Brother's Price, the Princesses' husband Keifer has been dead for six years. At the end of that time, they are engaged to a new young man and show him Keifer's quarters, including the secret passage to the gardens... which they find, between all the used match sticks and old mud tracked in different shoe sizes, that he'd been using regularly. To cheat on them. With hissister. The new man digs through Keifer's belongings and finds a code book implicating his family in a recent theft of cannons, and revealing that he poisoned the Princesses' father.
A particularly sad example occurs in Vivian Vande Velde's book Remembering Raquel, a Scrapbook Story told in Anachronic Order where multiple people describe how they were affected by a teenage girl's death. At one point we get the story from the view of the ambulance driver, who says she "let Raquel go" after finding a Do Not Resuscitate form in her bag and assuming it's what she would have wanted. As the story progresses, more of the same forms are found in her notebook, her locker, and her room, and her father eventually realizes that she'd been stealing them from her mother's hospital room so her mother wouldn't let herself die.
Lords and Ladies has Granny Weatherwax apparently sacrifice her life fighting the Queen of the Elves. Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick go through her possessions, which contain two surprises. The first is a bundle of letters, strongly implied to be love letters from Mustrum Ridcully, which she claimed to have never received, but apparently actually hung onto for decades. The second is a letter addressed to Nanny: it's the card she holds when "Borrowing" that reads "I aten't dead", and reveals that she found a way to survive after all.
One of the last episodes of Babylon 5 has Zack find a vital clue to catching an assassin in the effects of a security guard killed by the assassin for his comlink: the fake replacement comlink.
This is actually done when Franklin goes through Captain Sheridan's effects after he died at Z'Ha'Dum and finds a datacrystal in which Sheridan professes his love for Delenn. It's an extremely moving message, and Delenn quotes from it as she enjoins the Rangers and the White Star fleet to launch a desperate final assault on the Shadow's homeworld: "A friend told me, it you're falling off a cliff, you might as well try to fly. Here, and now, I give you one final chance to fly."
Happened on Bones after Zach has been revealed as evil, crippled, and institutionalized. Remarkable in that it didn't involve an actual death, but still a major tear jerker.
Happens in Brothers and Sisters. One of the central mysteries to the first season is the identity of a baby found in one of William Walker's photographs. And since they can't ask him (being dead and all), the first answer they get to the question is the wrong one.
Parodied in the episode of Strangers with Candy where Jerri's father dies. She goes through his closet looking through his stuff—we see some intriguing things like a huge wad of money, a gun, and a KKK outfit... but Jerri just laments that she's still learned nothing about him.
Interesting use in an early episode of LOST: the survivors hold a memorial for those who died in the crash, whom they didn't know. They go through their effects to glean what they can for the service.
In an early episode of Stargate SG-1, when it's believed Daniel's been killed (this is before it became a character trait, believe it or not), the rest of SG-1 go through this. Carter ends up finding Daniel's journal from the original movie among other things.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Geordi and Wesley do this for Data, after he's believed killed in "The Most Toys", including working out which possessions go to which crew member. They end up discovering a photo/holograph of TashaYar , a book on William Shakespeare (a gift from the captain) and a set of playing cards. Wesley is also surprised to discover Data's medals—including several of Starfleet's highest honours. The audience knew about these from an earlier episode, but the characters apparently didn't.
Geordi: Not bad for a walking pile of circuitry and memory cells.
Averted in Angel. After Doyle's death, Cordelia tries to do this, but finds that Doyle didn't have any personal effects kept in the office, so she couldn't learn any more about him.
But then, it turns out he did leave something behind (albeit not something tangible): his visions. At the end of the episode, Cordelia even frames a drawing she made of her first vision as a reminder that something of Doyle's is still there.
Warehouse 13 does this at the end of an episode where they investigated the death of a former Warehouse agent. In his personal effects (untouched since he died), they find an engagement ring, meant for Rebecca. Who previously said that her dead boyfriend/former partner "always chose the Warehouse before me."
Agent Bering, showing her the ring: "Looks like he chose you after all."
Occurs in the Doctor Who story Terminus, where it is revealed that new companion Turlough has inherited Adric's quarters on board the TARDIS, Adric having been killed off towards the end of the previous season. This leads to a scene in which artifacts relating to Adric's time with the Doctor make cameo appearances.
Parodied in Firefly; when River and Simon are kidnapped in the episode "Safe," Jayne rifles through Simon's belongings, stealing his cash and mocking him in his journal.
"Dear Diary, today I was pompous and my sister was crazy. Today we were kidnapped by hillfolk never to be seen again. It was the best day ever."
After Rimmer leaves in Red Dwarf, Lister has to throw out his old things to reduce the weight on the ship and gets teary eyed at the memories. Kryten then decides to 'cheer him up' by collecting Rimmer's old journals and making 'The Rimmer Experience' ride on the holodeck. Lister suddenly remembers why he hated Rimmer so much.
Happens (sort of) on The X-Files in the hunt for Mulder after he goes missing. While looking through his things, Scully finds that Mulder was keeping a terrible secret: he was dying from a brain disorder, and had never told her. He had a headstone made and was getting his affairs in order.
The M*A*S*H episode "Who Knew?" has Hawkeye preparing to eulogize a nurse who died after stepping on a landmine. While going through her personal effects, Father Mulcahy comes across her diary, where she revealed her strong feelings for Hawkeye, with whom she'd spent what he'd assumed to be a casual one-night-stand.
After Stringer Bell is killed on The Wire, the cops go through his apartment... and are surprised to realise that they knew nothing about the guy they'd been investigating for years.
In the Horatio Hornblower TV movie The Fire Ships, the men are auctioning off the possessions of a deceased crewmate, to send the proceeds home to his widow. The deceased sailor's best friend, stricken with guilt, hands over all of his money for the entire collection and throws it overboard.
After Bobby's death, Dean keeps his flask. After Dean and Sam burn his body, his ghost is able to manifest itself, because the flask was a huge part of him.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation does this with Warrick, mostly to get something to bury him in, and it's then that Catherine and Greg find the documents and video relating to Warrick's custody fight for his infant son, Eli.
The second, optional instance, occurs if the player visits Shinjiro's old room. There will be a box containing the character's belongings and equipment which the player can take and add to his own inventory.
Pretty much every case in Ace Attorney features the protagonist lawyer learning about his/her victim through evidence left behind after their death. It turns to Tearjerker during case 5-4 when looking through Byrne's promise book to Kay reveals his powerful love for his daughter. Kay later finds his diary, which reveals he was the Yatagarasu as well.
It's possible to get Barry killed in the first installment of Resident Evil, at which point you obtain a picture of his two daughters, who otherwise are only mentioned when Wesker reveals that he had blackmailed Barry by threatening them.
After Liara becomes the new Shadow Broker in Mass Effect 2, you gain access to a huge surveillance network, able to covertly peek in on several people around the galaxy. One of these is an Asari bartender named Aethyta, drowning her sorrows and staring at a picture of Liara. Liara doesn't know who her other parent is. All she knows is that it's another Asari. Do the math... Confirmed in Mass Effect 3. She is Liara's father.
If you finish the game, romanced Thane and dig through his file, you can find a letter destinated to Shepard after his death. The letter says that Shepard gave him a new will to live despite knowing he'll be dead in a year and that he's ready to spend his last days on life support if it allows him to stay with Shepard a bit longer. It ends with his declaration that he'll wait for her after his death.
In the third game, assuming he survived the Suicide Mission, Thane does indeed die although not of natural causes. The letter is in fact delivered to Shepard's terminal shortly thereafter.
In Lair of the Shadow Broker, Shepard actually gets to do this for a character who is still alive, exploring Liara's apartment while trying to track her down and find out who tried to assassinate her. Amongst her belongings are a collection of Prothean artifacts and a painting of Ilos. After you defeat the Shadow Broker, it is possible to go through some of the information he had collected on various characters, including your entire party.
The Mass Effect 3 DLC Leviathan has Shepard and EDI going through the lab and apartment of a recently deceased scientist trying to reconstruct his investigation of the Reapers and the Leviathan of Dis.
At the end of the Citadel DLC, Shepard receives a message from one of Mordin's STG friends, who sends along a series of recordings and other files Mordin had compiled in case of his death.
In World of Warcraft, if you defeat the Lich King with Shadowmourne, you will gain access to a Sealed Chest, containing mementos related to some of the people who knew him. These include Jaina's locket, a sword he used to train with Muradin and a badge that Uther gave him after he was inducted as a paladin; showing them to the respective people will result in them reminiscing about the person Arthas once was before giving players a rare item.
Earlier in Wrath of the Lich King, you kill a named mob as part of the quest; as a mage working for a dragon trying to destroy all mortal magic-workers, they are assumed to be the worst kind of traitor. Upon looting them, you discover a letter written to their family that explains they were being blackmailed and were secretly working against Malygos from within the organization.
Similarly, in Cataclysm, players who complete the quest to defeat Leyara will receive a locket from one of their allies that, when examined, reveals that Leyara was married to Fandral's son, and after losing him in the War of the Shifting Sands and her daughter to a Horde attack on Ashenvale, joined her father-in-law to get revenge on Malfurion, whom she blamed for the tragedy.
In Dragon Age: Origins, the Return To Ostagar DLC enables players to find Cailan's secret documents. According to them, he, on the advice of his uncle Eamon, was going to divorce Anora over her inablity to have an heir, and marry the Empress of Orlais after Ostagar. In the mage tower, after being forced to kill a Templar and the Desire Demon controlling him with the illusion he had a family, there is a reference to his being censured for remarks in front of the recruits, which may be related to this desire for a family.
In The Noob, the title character kills a rat and loots the body, finding a wallet containing some cash...and a letter and drawing from the rat's son. He is quite upset...until he levels up.
Subverted on King of the Hill.Cotton is seen looking at an old photo of a Japanese woman, and explains that it was from the wallet of a soldier he killed in World War II; he's always felt guilty about making her a widow, and decides to go to Japan to track her down and apologize. However, it turns out that story is actually made up; in reality, the woman was a Japanese nurse he fell in love with and never had a chance to say goodbye to. Upon tracking her down, he also finds out they had a son together.