Short Stories About Death or Loss

The death in these short stories can be figurative or literal, however, in most cases there is a physical death, or someone is concerned about dying.

Often, the effect of death on those still living is explored.

In others a character is dealing with a significant loss.

See also Murder

Exchanging Glances | Christa Wolf

A family of refugees travels the German countryside at the end of WWII. They’re trying to make new lives for themselves in West Germany. The story is narrated by a young girl.

The Masque of the Red Death | Edgar Allan Poe

Prince Prospero and his nobles are gathered in an abbey to avoid a deadly plague that is decimating the general population. The prince holds a masquerade party to entertain his guests and pass the time.

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The Story of an Hour | Kate Chopin

A woman receives the news that her husband has been killed in a train accident. She processes the news over the next hour, experiencing a range of emotions.

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The Lame Shall Enter First | Flannery O’Connor

A boy is in mourning over the death of his mother while his father is focused on helping others. He takes a special interest in a certain troubled child, inviting the boy to stay in their home.

Read “The Lame Shall Enter First” (PDF page 450)

The Garden-Party | Katherine Mansfield

The Sheridans, an upper-class family, are making preparations for a garden party. Before it starts, they hear that a working-class neighbor has just died.

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A Shocking Accident | Graham Greene

Jerome, a nine-year-old boy, is called to the office at school and learns of his father’s death. He was killed in the street when a pig fell on him.

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Dancing to the Shipping Forecast | Dan Powell

The narrator is in a seaside house waiting for someone to come home. Neither the narrator nor the man’s family has heard from him since he left.

Read “Dancing to the Shipping Forecast” (Page 20; free trial sign-up for full story)

Last Night | James Salter

Marit, a woman dying of cancer, asks her husband, Walter, to help her die quickly. He agrees to give her an overdose of her medication. They have one last night out with a family friend, and then prepare for the end.

A Dead Woman’s Secret | Guy De Maupassant

A dead woman’s adult children, a judge and a nun, sit vigil and read her old letters which reveal a secret from her past.

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The Sisters | James Joyce

A young boy learns of the death of a priest, Father Flynn, who had been a mentor to him.

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Resurrection of a Life | William Saroyan

The narrator remembers his life as a paperboy. It was during WWII, so he yelled out the headlines to passersby. His family was poor and he stopped going to school early on.

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The Boarded Window | Ambrose Bierce

A man who lives in the wilderness prepares his wife’s body for burial. There is an incident that night, which the narrator claims explains the mystery of why his cabin had a boarded window.

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A Rose for Emily | William Faulkner

A Southern spinster, Emily Grierson, has died. She had been a recluse, so the townspeople are curious about her and her house. The narrator recounts episodes from her life.

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich | Leo Tolstoy

Ivan Ilyich lives simply, focusing on making advancement at work as he’s not eager to be around his family. One day while hanging curtains, he falls and hurts his side. When he gets it checked out, the doctor has bad news.

This story is a novella.

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Odour of Chrysanthemums | D. H. Lawrence

The Bates’s live in a mining town, and Mr. Bates works at the mine. Mr. Bates is late for supper one evening, so his wife assumes he’s drunk and they start without him. After some time passes and he still hasn’t come home, she goes looking for him.

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Laura | Saki

Laura, who expects to die soon, believes she will be reincarnated as something suitable to her behavior and personality, probably an otter.

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The English Pupil | Andrea Barrett

A famous botanist, Carl Linnaeus, is old and suffering the effects of several strokes. He thinks back on his family, his life, and his students.

Death | Dorothy Richardson

An old woman thinks about her life and experiences pain while on her deathbed.

The Wives of the Dead | Nathaniel Hawthorne

Two women, married to two brothers, receive the news that their husbands have been killed on consecutive days.

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An Angel in Disguise | T. S. Arthur

A woman with a bad reputation in her town dies in a drunken fit. The townspeople all begin to wonder what will be done with her three children.

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The Dead Man | Horacio Quiroga

A man is out working in his banana plantation when he falls on his machete.

The Stone Boy | Gina Berriault

Early one morning, nine-year-old Arnold goes out with his fifteen-year-old brother Eugie to pick peas. Arnold takes his gun with him to shoot ducks. As he passes through a fence, his gun gets stuck; he jerks it free, causing it to go off.

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Redemption | John Gardner

Young Jack Hawthorn accidentally runs over and kills his brother with a tractor and cultipacker (a machine that crushes and smoothes the ground) on their farm. Each member of the family tries to come to terms with the death.

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The Half-Skinned Steer | Annie Proulx

Mero Corn is informed that his brother, Rollo, has been clawed to death by an emu. Mero, a retiree, decides that he will drive from Massachusetts to Wyoming for the funeral. On the way, he thinks about his father’s girlfriend, who, years ago, had told him a disturbing story about a luckless rancher and a half-skinned steer.

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In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried | Amy Hempel

The narrator visits her friend, who is dying of cancer, in a California hospital. The friend wants to talk about trivial things. They seem to have lost some of their closeness.

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Lullaby | Leslie Marmon Silko

Ayah, an elderly Native American woman, reminisces about the losses she has experienced in life.  She remembers getting the news that her son, Jimmie, had been killed in the war. She also remembers a tragic day involving her two youngest children.

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro | Ernest Hemingway

On the African savannah, a man’s leg is rotting with gangrene. His wife tries to comfort and encourage him. As he waits for death, he thinks about his life.

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The Fly | Katherine Mansfield

Old Mr. Woodifield visits his former boss at work. When Woodifield mentions their sons who were killed in World War I, the boss becomes disturbed.

Read “The Fly”

The Living | Mary Lavin

Two young boys talk about how many dead people they’ve seen. Realizing that a wake is being held in town, they decide to go and try to see the body.

The Burial | St. John Ervine

Mourners are gathering for the funeral procession of a young woman who drowned. They talk about how terrible it is and the conversation also turns to more personal, practical matters.

Read here (Page 111)

The Moths | Helena Maria Viramontes

The narrator tells the story of when she was fourteen and her grandmother, Abuelita, asked her for help when she started to deteriorate. She agrees because her grandmother often looked out for her. The narrator doesn’t feel close to her immediate family.

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My Dead Brother Comes to America | Alexander Godin

An immigrant family arrives in New York at Ellis Island. The father had already come to America and he is waiting for his wife and four kids.

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To Hell with Dying | Alice Walker

Mr. Sweet, an old man, is a diabetic, alcoholic, and a guitar player. When Mr. Sweet was on the brink of dying – which was often – the narrator’s family would “revive” him with love and attention.

Little Selves | Mary Lerner

Margaret O’Brien is seventy-five and on her deathbed. She receives some visitors and thinks about incidents from her life. She is concerned that the people she knew will be forgotten.

“Little Selves”

Vines | Kenneth Bernard

A man starts to notice some changes in his body—he smells worse, his feet are colder, and he doesn’t feel on top of things. He mentions it to his wife and a friend.

Read “Vines”

Teddy’s Canary | K. C. Frederick

The narrator tells a familiar, amusing story to a group of friends about Teddy, a man who has recently died.

Read “Teddy’s Canary” (Scroll down)

Corners | Sheila Barry

Mildred and Jessie look over the body of their deceased sister, Marie. Mildred is satisfied with the undertaker’s work, but Jessie gets upset.

Read “Corners”

The Necessary Grace to Fall | Gina Ochsner

Howard works for an insurance company, investigating claims made on behalf of the deceased. He becomes fascinated by his cases, especially the possible suicide of a woman he thinks he may have known in high school.

The Law of Life | Jack London

Koskoosh, an old man and formerly the chief of an Inuit tribe, sits by himself outside of his tribe’s camp. They are preparing to leave the area to look for better hunting grounds. Koskoosh isn’t going with them; he will wait alone for his death as nature dictates.

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The School | Donald Barthelme

A teacher relates all of the experiences with death that his class has in a single school year.

Read “The School”

Letter to a Funeral Parlor | Lydia Davis

The narrator writes a letter to the funeral parlor that just assisted with the arrangements for a close family member. The representative used the word cremains to refer to the deceased.

Read “Letter to a Funeral Parlor” (About halfway down)

Twilight | Wladyslaw Reymont

Sokol, an old horse, lies dying. He is neglected, aside from an occasional visit from the hunting-dogs. Sokol is miserable and afraid as he dies alone.

Read “Twilight”

The Memento | John Collier

Eric is out walking in the country when he is called over by a neighbor, an old man. After making conversation about their community, the old man shows Eric his museum, a collection of items that all have something in common.

Read “The Memento” (Ctl + F the title, it’s near the top)

The Man to Send Rain Clouds | Leslie Marmon Silko

On an Indian reservation, an old man is found dead from natural causes. Two younger men prepare his body for burial according to their customs. One of their wives suggests that the local Catholic priest should be invited to take part in the ceremony.

Read “The Man to Send Rain Clouds”

Riding the Whip | Robin Hemley

The night before his sister dies, a teenager is taken to a carnival by a family friend and her niece, Rita. They have some awkward exchanges as they talk around his sister’s condition.

Read “Riding the Whip”

A Small, Good Thing | Raymond Carver

A mother and father are preparing for their son’s eighth birthday. The son gets hit by a car on his way to school one morning, but seems all right and makes his way home. Shortly after, he loses consciousness.

Read “A Small, Good Thing”

Taking Care | Joy Williams

Jones, a preacher, visits his wife in the hospital. She has a problem with her blood. He is also caring for his baby granddaughter, as his daughter has left her with him to go to Mexico to deal with her own problems. The narrative also shows the beginnings of his wife’s and daughter’s difficulties.

Read “Taking Care”

The Jjilting of Granny Weatherall | Katherine Anne Porter

Granny Weatherall is on her deathbed. She thinks about some old love letters she would like to destroy, and her mind returns to the time she was left at the altar by George.

Read “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge | Ambrose Bierce

A confederate sympathizer is sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

Read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

The Jade Peony | Wayson Choy

The narrator, a Chinese-Canadian, remembers when his Grandmama died at 83. The family is waiting for some kind of sign, according to their tradition, that her life had ended well. He relates some experiences with her during her later years, including how they would go hunting in the neighbourhood for glass fragments and old jewelry.

Read “The Jade Peony”

See also: Seventy Thousand Assyrians (Community), Fish (Family), The Pagan Rabbi (Faith), Easter Night (Grief)

I will continue adding stories about death that might be suitable for middle or high school students.