Harry: "Blown up"?! You told me my parents died in a car crash!
Hagrid: A car crash? A car crash killed Lily and James Potter? It's an outrage!
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 favorite 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, Faking the Dead, someone Reminiscing About Your Victims, 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.
- Kouta from Elfen Lied was told that his sister had died of an illness. In reality, she was torn in half right in front of him by a jealous Lucy, but the memory of it was so traumatic that he suppressed it and the illness explanation was easier to digest.
- In Attack on Titan, Grisha Yeager's younger sister Faye dies after the two sneak out of their ghetto as children and are caught by Marley military officers, who deny any involvement. Grisha knows that they did something, but it's not until many years later that he learns that Faye was fed to Sergeant Gross's dogs as "punishment". This prompts him to join La Résistance (as he was informed of the circumstances of Faye's death by a member of the Eldian Restoration Movement), which sets in motion the events leading up to the start of the series.
- 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.
- Alix Senator: Alix's friend Enak died honorably in the war between Rome and Egypt several decades ago. Except Alix knows the truth: Enak deserted to get his wife and infant son Khephren to safety, but only Khephren survived, to be raised by Alix. To prevent his friend's memory from being tarnished, Alix put up an Empty Grave mentioning his publically accepted death. Naturally, the truth is that Enak actually survived all these years, unbeknownst to Alix or Khephren. Reality Ensues when they don't form a happy family again afterwards, Enak eventually staying in Egypt.
- 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.
- And the true reason for the attack isn't revealed until the sequel. In the first film, it's merely assumed the attack was purely random. Actually, Viktor was tying up loose ends in the form of Selene's father who built William's tomb.
- In the first Lethal Weapon film, 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 had 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. Yeah, that worked out.
- On the in-universe eponymous TV show in the film The Truman Show, Truman Burbank's father was written out and his death staged as drowning in order to give Truman a fear of water that would discourage him from boating (and thus discovering that his entire life was faked). When the actor who'd played Truman's father made it back onto the set and encountered the adult Truman, he was duly written back in.
- 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.
- In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man's parents died years ago in a car accident; but it was revealed in Captain America: Civil War (after being hinted at in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) that they had been assassinated by HYDRA.
- For the first hour or so of Stoker, both India and the audience believe that Jonathan Stoker died in a car accident. Turns out, Uncle Charlie bashed his skull in with a rock, and then staged the car accident to cover it up.
- A Brother's Price: The princesses' father died some years ago. The suspected cause of death was poisoning. Which is true. However, he was not poisoned by a stranger, but by Keifer, the princesses' horrible husband. There is also Keifer himself, who was Too Dumb to Live, and died in an explosion that his co-conspirators caused, because he didn't notice his cue for getting out. No one suspected that he was Hoist by His Own Petard
- Harry Potter:
- Harry lived in the belief that his parents died in a car crash for 10 years, until it is revealed to him by Hagrid that they were in fact killed by the Big Bad.
- After the climactic events of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Ministry does not want to believe that Voldemort's return, so they work to discredit Harry and Dumbledore, including by attempting to convince people that Cedric Diggory died in a tragic accident, and several witches and wizards believe it (such as Seamus Finnigan's mother). Once Harry and Dumbledore are proven right, and the smear campaign against them is proven false, the Wizarding World are forced to realize that Voldemort murdered Cedric Diggory and that Voldemort has returned.
- The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has Cornelius Fudge explaining to the Muggle Prime Minister that the accidents that led to the deaths of several people were actually attacks by the Death Eaters, due to the war against Voldemort.
- 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.
- The Dresden Files: 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 David Eddings' The Belgariad, Belgarath believes his wife died in childbirth, and she makes a couple of appearances as a ghost seemingly confirming this. In the Mallorean sequel series, it's revealed that she's not actually dead at all but has just been watching events in hiding for the last thousand years on the instructions of a sentient prophecy.
- As a child and young adult (as seen in Night Watch), Sam Vimes's mother had always told him his father was run over by a cart. As an older and more cynical man in Snuff, Vimes suspects it was a brewer's cart and it "ran him over" over a period of years.
- The protagonist of Hooligans by William Diehl told the family of his best friend that he'd died heroically in combat, whereas he actually had his throat cut by a Viet Cong agent posing as a prostitute.
- In the Sven Hassel novels when a main character dies his relatives or girlfriend is told he was shot in the head and felt no pain, instead of a slow death trapped in a burning tank or with their body ripped open in no-man's land.
- In The Pretender, Jarod was told that his parents had been 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 and 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 Raising Hope, Virginia was raised by her grandmother, Maw Maw. Maw Maw told Virginia that her mother had died - she claimed she was doing something with a plastic bag on her head, was attacked by bees, and as a result fell over, hitting her head on a lawn ornament and suffocating. Virginia believed this until she was an adult, when she learned that her mother simply had not wanted to raise a baby and had left her.
- Is a plot point several times in Power Rangers.
- Power Rangers in Space- Astronema/Karone is told the Power Rangers destroyed her parents and her brother. By the time she learns that she was kidnapped by Darkonda and Andros, the Red Ranger, is her brother, she's been evil for so long that it takes a two-part episode to broadcast her Heel–Face Turn.
- Even more so for Blake and Hunter in Power Rangers: Ninja Storm after having been told by Lothor that their rivals, the Wind Ninjas/Wind Rangers, murdered their adoptive parents. It was, in fact Lothor himself, who did the deed, but the brothers were so pissed off about the whole thing that they took several episodes to form the obligatory Five-Man Band.
- One of the two characters in My Own Worst Enemy begins to suspect that his boss is responsible for the death of his parents when he was little. However, while the boss eventually manages to convince him that is not so, the truth remains undiscovered. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled before it could be.
- In Glee, Finn believed his father died in Afghanistan while in the military. It was later revealed his father overdosed on drugs as a result of PTSD and died in America.
- One of the last episodes of Highlander featured a conversation between Joe and Methos about the circumstances of an Immortal's death. Methos was there at the time (74 B.C.) and his account is very different than the one listed in the Watchers Chronicles.
- In Castle Beckett believed her mother was killed by random gang violence, until Castle opened his own investigation and discovered the kill was too precise and four others in related positions had died the same way.
- Maybe not exactly, but in Bones, Brennan believed her parents were killed shortly after they disappeared, because it was the only reason she could accept that they hadn't come home. Then she found out her mother's skeleton had been in Limbo and her own team was able to prove that she hadn't died until years after leaving, and eventually it turned out that her father wasn't even dead. So there was no outside deception involved (at least, not involving their deaths), but neither of her parents died the way she thought they did.
- An episode of Motive reveals that the Victim of the Week was killed for trying to confess to a hit-and-run of a woman's first boyfriend. The victim and his buddy then threw the boyfriend off a bridge to make it look like a suicide (it helped that the woman had just rejected his marriage proposal). The killer was the driver, who has just proposed to the same woman.
- On As the World Turns, the backstory behind brothers Jack and Brad's estrangement is that Brad killed their father while driving drunk. Brad's girlfriend Camille finally gets fed up with Jack's downright abusive treatment of Brad and informs him that is was their mother who was the drunk driver in question. Brad took the blame knowing how much Jack adored their mother and not wanting to mess up the family anymore than it was already.
- General Hospital. For years, Laura believed that her mother Leslie had died in a car accident, only for it to turn out that she had been deliberately run off the road by minions of Helena Cassadine. Then the whole thing turned out to be a subversion with the revelation that Leslie wasn't dead at all and had been held prisoner by the Cassadines for years.
- The Flash (2014): Iris West believed that her mom Francine died when she was a child. It turns out that she was a drug addict who had abandoned her family, and Iris' father Joe lied to her because he didn't want her to develop abandonment issues. Iris finds this out when Francine comes back to settle loose ends because she now really is dying.
- 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.
- In Hamlet, Hamlet's father appears to him as a ghost and tells Hamlet that Claudio poisoned him, the senior Hamlet, instead of his death being natural.
- 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.
- JC Denton from Deus Ex was told that his parents had died in a car crash. 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 had died choking on a dark pretzel, but in reality King Krichevskoy perished fighting Baal.
- And then it turns out that Krichevskoy is still alive, having adopted the persona of Vyers/Mid-Boss. Although Laharl doesn't seem to ever realize this.
- In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors Santa claims that his parents died in an accident leaving him and his younger sister. Two games later, in Zero Time Dilemma it's revealed that they didn't. His father was given death sentence for a murder he didn't commit and his mother was Driven to Suicide.
- During the "Storm of Souls" arc in Dominic Deegan, the title character uses his Second Sight to discover the creation of the famous golem hero Acibek. Part of the creation process included sacrificing living souls to give Acibek life. In this case, the souls of a few of the creator's followers' relatives were unwillingly sacrificed. The creator had lied about their causes of death, but Acibek divined the truth from those souls and revealed it to all. He also said that they weren't suffering, and were part of his "perfect collective".
Acibek: (to a female elf and a hooded man) My lady, your husband was not killed "fighting the humans of Callan." Sir, your uncle did not die of "a sudden heart attack."
- In the second season of American Dragon: Jake Long, Rose was convinced by the Huntsman that her parents had 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. When Homer's mother returned, she wasn't happy with Grandpa for lying to him. He lied so Homer wouldn't know his own mother is a wanted criminal, plus Grandpa never forgave her for leaving them both.
- In "The Blunder Years" it's revealed that Smithers' father died from nuclear radiation to save the plant's core from exploding, so Burns raised him telling him that he was ripped apart by savage Amazon women. It's implied this is the reason why he's gay.
- In Steven Universe, the official story of Pink Diamond's death was that Rose Quartz managed to reach her palanquin and shattered her with Rose's sword in order to break the Diamond resistance to the Crystal Gem rebellion. However, in "The Trial", the Defense Zircon concludes that this didn't happen, since there were too many inconsistencies with the story, and concludes that Pink Diamond was probably betrayed by another Diamond. "Your Mother and Mine" confuses the issue even more, since Garnet's flashback to the event also has errors (for example, Rose holds her sword in her right hand instead of her left and does not have her shield). Pink Diamond did die, but not in the Gem War, and she wasn't shattered. She became Rose Quartz and eventually "died" 14 years ago, giving up her physical form to give birth to Steven. The "Rose Quartz" eyewitnesses saw was Pearl, helping her mistress fake her own death.