Short Stories About Death or Loss

Short Stories About Death or Loss
Short Stories About Death

In these short stories about death, the death can be figurative or literal, however, in most cases there is a physical death. A character’s death may be imminent or someone could be concerned about dying for other reasons, and we’ll be let in on how they’re dealing with it. In other stories, the focus could be more on how a death affects those who go on living. In other stories a character is dealing with a significant loss. See also:

Short Stories About Death & Loss

“The Knowers” by Helen Phillips

The narrator is one of those who wish to know. This upsets Tem, her partner, who says it affects him too. The technology has been mastered and it’s not very expensive. She decides she’s going to do it. When she returns two hours later, Tem is anxious to find out what happened.

This story can be read in the Amazon preview of Some Possible Solutions: Stories.

“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel

The narrator visits her friend, who is dying of cancer, in a California hospital. The friend wants to talk about trivial things. The narrator has waited two months to visit. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”

“The Visit” by Ray Bradbury

A young man, Bill, has reluctantly agreed to receive a visit from Mrs. Hadley. They share an undeniable connection but it’s awkward, and they’re not sure how to handle it. She’s recently suffered a serious loss. (Summary)

This story can be read in the sample of We’ll Always Have Paris: Stories (72% in).

“Wild Horses” by Rick Bass

Karen’s fiancé, Henry, died the day before they were to be married. He was on a railroad trestle drinking with some friends, including his best friend, Sydney. Henry dove in. His body was never found. Sydney, who breaks horses, visits Karen sometimes. In particular, he goes over once a month, and she hits him until she can’t anymore. This relieves her feelings for a while, but they always come back.

This story can be read in the preview of For a Little While: New and Selected Stories.

“A Rose for Emily” by 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. (Summary & Analysis)

This story can be read in the preview of A Rose for Emily and Other Stories. (18% into preview)

“A Journey” by Edith Wharton

A married couple are taking a train back home to New York. They have been away for the husband’s health, but he hasn’t improved. His wife still loves him, but she feels constrained by the situation. (Summary)

Read “A Journey”

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by 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.

This is the third story in the preview of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway(62% into the preview)

“Personal Escort” by Dino Buzzati

A boy notices a man out in a field who seems to be looking right at him. The experience opens his eyes to new possibilities, but he soon stops thinking of the man. Eventually, he reappears. (Summary)

“María Concepción” by Katherine Anne Porter

Maria and Juan are a young married couple. Maria works hard, is frugal, and is respected in her Mexican town. She is pregnant. Although she doesn’t believe in the remedies of the local medicine-woman, Maria feels she needs honey to prevent her child from being “marked” in some way. She goes to her place, where a young beekeeper, Maria Rosa, also lives.

This is the first story in the preview of Collected Stories and Other Writings.

“The Fly” by 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.

This is the second story in the preview of 50 Greatest Short Stories.

“Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman

Mrs. Whitaker, an elderly woman, finds the Holy Grail at a second-hand shop. She thinks it would look nice on the mantlepiece, so she buys it. Shortly after, she gets a visit from a striking young man who’s on a quest. (Summary)

Read “Chivalry” (PDF)

“The School” by Donald Barthelme

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

This is the second story in the preview of The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction(41% into preview)

“The Garden-Party” by 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.

This is the first story in the preview of 50 Great Short Stories.

“Taking Care” by 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.

This is the first story in the preview of The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories.

“The Sisters” by James Joyce

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

This is the first story in the preview of Dubliners.

Stories About Death, Cont’d

“Cargo” by E. Michael Lewis

Tech Sergeant Davis, a Loadmaster, is assigned to a crew headed for Jonestown to evacuate Americans. They’ll be taking a C-141 StarLifter, the largest freighter and troop carrier in the military. As Loadmaster, his job is to secure the cargo. There’s a last-minute change of plans—the Med crew won’t be accompanying them. When they arrive at the airport, there are rows of coffins.

This story can be read in the preview of Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales(30% into preview)

“The Man to Send Rain Clouds” by 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.

This story can be read in the preview of The Man to Send Rain Clouds: Contemporary Stories by American Indians.

“Sleeping” by Katharine Weber

Harriet, a young girl, is babysitting Charles. His parents tell her that he won’t be any trouble, he will sleep the whole time, and she needn’t even open his bedroom door to look at him. (Analysis)

This story can be read in the preview of Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories. (88% in)

“The Boarded Window” by 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. (Summary)

This story can be read in the preview of 100 Great American Short Stories(80% into preview)

“Without Jonathan” by Jeffrey Deaver

Marissa is driving to Green Harbor on a road that she drove many times with Jonathan. Now, she thinks about her life without him. She doesn’t want to speculate about his death. She’s on her way to meet Dale. She’s looking forward to dating again. Thoughts of Jonathan can be overwhelming, but Marissa’s determined to start a new life.

This story can be read in the preview of Twisted: The Collected Stories of Jeffrey Deaver(22% in)

“My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott

Lorie is dealing with the loss of her daughter, Shelby, but in a way that people disapprove of. The police and reporters are still asking questions. Lorie and her husband have told the story of Shelby’s disappearance many times. There are some inconsistencies with eyewitness accounts.

This story can be read in the preview of The Best American Mystery Stories 2014(31% in)

“Gardener of Heart” by Bradford Morrow

The narrator returns to his childhood home for the funeral of his twin sister, Julie. He left thirty years ago to pursue a career in archaeology; Julie stayed there her whole life. They were best friends as children, and they always stayed in touch by phone and letters. They had a pact as children that whoever died first would somehow try to wait for the other.

“Gardener of Heart” is in The Uninnocent: Stories.

“The Lame Shall Enter First” by Flannery O’Connor

A boy is in mourning over the death of his mother while his father, Sheppard, is focused on helping others. He takes a special interest in a certain troubled child, Rufus Johnson, inviting the boy to stay in their home. Sheppard believes Rufus has great potential and that he can save him. (Summary)

“The Dead Man” by Horacio Quiroga

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

“Exchanging Glances” by 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” by 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.

Read here

“The Story of an Hour” by 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.

Read here

“Thanasphere” by Kurt Vonnegut

Dr. Groszinger is assisting with an experiment. A manned spacecraft, the first of its kind, is two thousand miles above earth. The lone occupant, Major Allen Rice, was selected from a hundred volunteers for his strength, stoicism, and work ethic. He’s as perfect for the mission as the ship he inhabits. Groszinger and the project head, Lieutenant General Franklin Dane, are waiting for Rice’s first progress report. They’re delighted to make contact with him, but their mood quickly changes. Rice sounds hesitant and soft and is distracted by voices that Groszinger and Dane can’t hear.

Stories About Death, Cont’d

“A Shocking Accident” by 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.

“Dancing to the Shipping Forecast” by 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.

“Last Night” by 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” by 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.

Read here

“Resurrection of a Life” by 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.

“The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by 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.

Read “The Death of Ivan Ilych”

“Odour of Chrysanthemums” by 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.

“Laura” by Saki

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

Read here

“The English Pupil” by 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” by Dorothy Richardson

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

“The Wives of the Dead” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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

Read “The Wives of the Dead”

“An Angel in Disguise” by 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.

Read here

“Country Life” by Emil Sher

A couple moves to the country to raise their young daughter, Casey. She becomes friends with an elderly neighbor, Mr. Wiley. They spend lots of time together outside. Mr. Wiley stops by to give them something Casey gave him for Thanksgiving. They’re going to be away for a week.

Read “Country Life”

Stories About Death, Cont’d

“The Stone Boy” by 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.

“Redemption” by John Gardner

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

“The Half-Skinned Steer” by 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.

“Lullaby” by 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.

Read here

“The Living” by 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” by 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.

“The Moths” by 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 agreed because her grandmother often looked out for her. The narrator didn’t feel close to her immediate family.

“My Dead Brother Comes to America” by 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.

“To Hell with Dying” by 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” by 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” by 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.

“Teddy’s Canary” by 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 over halfway)

“Corners” by 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.

“The Necessary Grace to Fall” by 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.

Stories About Death, Cont’d

“The Law of Life” by 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.

Read here

“Letter to a Funeral Parlor” by 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.

“Twilight” by 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.

“Little Memento” by 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.

“Riding the Whip” by 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.

“A Small, Good Thing” by 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.

“The Jjilting of Granny Weatherall” by 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”

“The Jade Peony” by 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 neighborhood for glass fragments and old jewelry.

“What the Moon Brings” by H. P. Lovecraft

The narrator has a surreal walk in his garden. The moonlight seems to be affecting his perception. Flowers that blow into the nearby stream look like dead faces.

Read “What the Moon Brings”

“The Death of Elsa Baskoleit” by Heinrich Böll

The narrator remembers living near a shopkeeper, Baskoleit, a cheerful man with a daughter who danced. When he moves back into town years later, things have changed.

“The Eye” by Paul Bowles

Duncan March was a Canadian living in Tangier. He died several years ago. The narrator hears his story and decides to look into his death. Duncan rented a house. He hired a Moroccan night-watchman, dismissed the cook, and hired another cook recommended by the watchman. He soon experienced digestive problems.

“Down to a Sunless Sea” by Neil Gaiman

A woman walks the docks in London as she has for a long time. You’re under an awning to get out of the rain. She sees you and starts talking about her son.

“Premium Harmony” by Stephen King

Ray and Mary have been married ten years. They argue now. Ray smokes and Mary has gained weight. Ray waits in the car while Mary goes into the Quik-Pik. It’s really hot.

Read “Premium Harmony”

“On the Shore of Chad Creek” by Jack Matthews

Melvin Combs, eighty-three, wakes up to find his wife Maude, eighty-one, has died. They live alone in an isolated spot. He doesn’t want to go for help. To get Maude to his car, he has to carry her down a steep hill and over a bridge. He has a drink to prepare himself.

“Remembering Orchards” by Barry Lopez

The narrator lived with his stepfather from twelve to seventeen, and they weren’t close. He was a highly skilled orchardist and farmer, who brought serenity to the home. The narrator talks about his stepfather and his assistant, Ramon. He appreciates his stepfather now, and knows what he’s lost.

Read “Remembering Orchards”

“Seventy Thousand Assyrians” by William Saroyan

An Armenian man is always on the lookout for fellow Armenians—a generous estimate says there are only two million in the world. He strikes up a conversation with a barber who is Assyrian.

Read “Seventy Thousand Assyrians”

Stories About Death, Cont’d

“The Signing” by Stephen Dixon

The narrator’s wife dies at the hospital. He kisses her hand and leaves without handling any of the bureaucratic tasks. The hospital sends their security guard after him.

“The Altar of the Dead” by Henry James

George Stransom, fifty-five, commemorates the death of his fiancé at his private church altar. He eventually does the same for all his departed friends. Memories of the dead dominate his thoughts. He makes the acquaintance of a woman whom he has seen at his altar.

Read “The Altar of the Dead”

“The Tombstone” by Ray Bradbury

Walter and Leota need a room to rest after a long trip. A landlord takes them to a room that’s perfectly good except for one thing—there’s a tombstone in the middle of it. The previous tenant was a marble-cutter who left it behind after making a mistake. Leota is superstitious and doesn’t want to stay.

“The Lake” by Ray Bradbury

The narrator, Harold, remembers when his mother took him to the beach as a twelve-year-old before his family moved. She told him to stay away from the water. When he got out of sight, he went in. He had to look for someone. His young friend, Tally, had drowned there the year before.

Read “The Lake”

“A Natural History of the Dead” by Ernest Hemingway

The narrator furnishes the reader with some facts about the war-dead. He talks about the preponderance of male casualties, the fate of mules, the decomposition of bodies, how people die, and other related things.

Read “A Natural History of the Dead”

“Death of a Traveling Salesman” by Eudora Welty

R. J. Bowman, a traveling salesman for a shoe company, is back on the road after a bout of influenza. He’s still not feeling well. He’s also lost. He eventually drives to the edge of a ravine and can’t prevent his car from going over the edge. He gets out before it rolls down the bank. He starts heading for a house on a hill.

Read “Death of a Traveling Salesman”

“There Was an Old Woman” by Ray Bradbury

A tall, dark gentleman is visiting Aunt Tildy. He came in without even knocking first, along with four other men and a large wicker basket. She remembers seeing that kind of basket years ago when Mrs. Dwyer died. The visitor wants Aunt Tildy to rest, but she wants to get back to her work.

“Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates” by Stephen Vincent Benét

When Doc Mellhorn dies, he’s surprised to find himself on the road again. He had served as a country doctor for about forty years, and many were alive because of him. People from all around came to his funeral. That’s when things got strange for Doc Mellhorn. He found himself driving his first car, a Model T, on a long road. Things felt a bit different.

Read “Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates”

I’ll keep adding short stories about death and loss as I find them.