Short Stories About Grief, Loss and Sadness

Short Stories About Grief Loss
Short Stories About Grief & Loss

These short stories about grief and loss will have main characters experiencing and coping with grief and sadness, often over a significant loss. In many cases, characters will be mourning a death or the loss of a significant relationship. Most are realistic but there are also some selections with fantasy or sci-fi elements. See also:

Short Stories About Grief & Loss

“Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams

Verlie Jones works as a maid for the Todds. Her husband, Horace, has left and she fears he will return. The Todds don’t know how they’d get along without Verlie. (Summary)

This story can be read in the Amazon sample of The Stories of Alice Adams (18% in).

“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.

“Alicia” by Gabrielle Roy

A woman tells the story of her older sister Alicia’s mental illness. They’re close but Alicia is very withdrawn. (Summary)

Read here

“A Curtain of Green” by Eudora Welty

Mrs. Larkin, a young widow, spends her days from morning until dark working in her garden. She is focused on planting whatever she can, and isolates herself from her community. (Summary)

“Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason

Leroy has been off work for four months since getting hurt. His wife, Norma Jean, supports them both by working at a drugstore. Leroy is glad to be home with his wife, but he’s worried that she’s drawing away from him—maybe his presence reminds her of their son who died as a baby.

This story can be read in the preview of Shiloh & Other Stories.

“The Griot of Grover Street: Part 1” by Kwame Mbalia

Fort Jones, a young boy, runs out crying from Aunt Netta’s funeral. She was one of the bright spots of the neighborhood, known for her friendliness, singing and desserts. In his grief, Fort crashes into an unusual old man. He’s carrying a big glass jar with him. He’s concerned that the joy has spilled out. Fort’s mother comes along and tell him to help refill the jar.

This story can be read in the preview of Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood.

“Axiomatic” by Greg Egan

A man goes into The Implant Store. They sell tiny chips that can rewire the brain, giving people particular experiences or beliefs. He’s here for a special order. He looks around, giving himself a chance to leave without it. After five years, he still mourns and loves his deceased wife, Amy, but he knows he’s not doing this for her.

This is the second story in the preview of The Best of Greg Egan(28% into Kindle preview)

“Death on Christmas Eve” by Stanley Ellin

The family lawyer goes to the Boerum house to visit Charlie, who’s wife, Jessie, has died. Charlie’s sister, Celia, answers the door. The authorities have cleared Celia in the death, but the lawyer makes it clear he knows she did it. There’s lots of tension in the house. Celia is planning on getting rid of Jessie’s things.

This mystery story can be read in the preview of The Speciality of the House(82% into Kindle preview)

“57 Gatwick” by Patrick Hicks

George McCourt, the County Coroner, speaks at a press conference about the recent tragedy. Debris started falling from the night sky, including plane parts, personal belongings and dead bodies. They’ve recovered 139 bodies so far. There’s property damage in Duluth and fourteen residents were killed by falling objects.

This story can be read in the preview of The Collector of Names: Stories.

“Rain” by Sangu Mandanna

Anna’s mother was killed a few months ago in a car accident. Her aunt Mynah invites her and her father to come visit for a while. They make the trip from England to America, where her aunt lives on Hungry Heart Row, a neighborhood with many food establishments. Anna’s relationship with her father has changed due to their grief.

This story can be read in the preview of Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love(14% into preview)

“Spirits” by James A. Moore

Tyler and Dan, best friends, are at a flea market. Dan is drinking again. Tyler has helped him with this before. They met because each of their wives was killed in the same accident by a tractor-trailer. They bonded over their grief. Early on, it was Dan who was able to provide more help.

This story can be read in the preview of My Favorite Story Podcast Author Anthology(12% in)

“The Cat, A Goldfinch, and the Stars” by Luigi Pirandello

An old couple owns a goldfinch. It used to belong to their granddaughter, who died at fifteen. It helped them during their grief, and they started looking after it. The couple keeps to themselves, putting all their time into the goldfinch.

This story can be read in the preview of Stories for the Years(68% in)

“Steady Customer” by Bernard Malamud

The waitresses at Mr. Mollendorf’s diner are crying. A fellow waitress, Eileen, died during a gallbladder operation. She was only twenty-eight. They try to continue with their work, but no one wants to take over Eileen’s tables. The waitresses realize that Eileen’s steady customer is going to come in and someone is going to have to tell him.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories(63% in)

“The Whale House” by Sharon Millar

Laura and Mark scatter their baby’s ashes in the ocean. She knows he blames her. She hadn’t rested as much as the doctor advised. Pregnant at forty-six, she continued to cook and work around the house. Laura and Mark have two teenagers. A third, Jeannine, is Laura’s daughter, but everyone believes they’re sisters.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean(54% into preview)

“Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chiang

Neil Fisk grieves deeply after the death of his wife, Sarah, and it makes him reexamine his relationship with God. Sarah died as an unintended consequence of an angelic visitation that effected four miraculous cures while also causing eight casualties. Her soul was seen ascending to heaven. Neil copes with the aftermath by attending group meetings. His journey becomes intertwined with two others who’ve had visitations.

This story can be read in the preview of Starlight 3(14% in)

“The Dead Past” by Isaac Asimov

Arnold Potterley, a Professor of Ancient History, wants to use the chronoscope—a machine that can show a scene from the past—for his research on Carthage. The government maintains strict control over its use, and his request is denied. Frustrated, Potterley embarks on a plan to get around this restriction, which is professionally risky. The Potter’s infant daughter died in a fire many years ago.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories, Vol 1(6% in)

Short Stories About Grief and Loss, Cont’d

“Swimming Upstream” by Beth Brant

Anna May stopped at a motel to rest. She dreamt of her son Simon again, drowning while she tried to save him. At first it was a nightmare, but now the dream is familiar. When she’s awake, she imagines things about him. Her ex-husband had custody of Simon. She was unfit—she lived with a woman and had a history of alcoholism. Anna needed to get away for a while. She’s been thinking lately about drinking, just one bottle of wine.

“L. T.’s Theory of Pets” by Stephen King

L. T. likes to tell the story of how his wife left him, but he doesn’t like talking about how she’s likely dead now, a victim of the Axe Man. Arriving home from work one day he found the garage door open and her car gone. Inside, there’s a note from her on the fridge telling him she’s left him and detailing her reasons. L. T. believes a lot of their problems came from their two pets—a dog she bought for him and a cat he bought for her. She says she’s going to her mother’s but she never arrives.

“Thoughts and Prayers” by Ken Liu

Hayley is remembered by her family. The each feel guilty and deal with her death in their own way. Her mother, who has always valued pictures, finds some solace in posting lots of pictures of her. Hayley becomes a symbol for gun control, and her mother makes public speaking appearances. With all the online material available, the trolls come out in full force.

“Dream Children” by Gail Godwin

A woman imagines that people are talking about the terrible experience she’s had. She rides a horse like she has nothing to lose. She has a normal routine and appears normal to others. She starts reading mystical books to understand her situation.

Read “Dream Children”

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov

Iona Potapov is the driver of a horse-drawn sleigh. His mind isn’t on his work due to a recent tragedy. He tries to talk to his passengers about his feelings.

Read “Misery”

“The End of Old Horse” by Simon J. Ortiz

Two brothers, Native American boys, go to a creek to fish and keep cool on a hot day. On their way, they see Old Horse, a dog, tied up, straining excitedly against his rope. They tell the owner, but he says to ignore it.

“Easter Eve” by Anton Chekhov

The narrator takes a ferry across the river to attend an Easter service. The monk who works on the ferry is mourning the death of his friend, a fellow monk.

Read “Easter Eve”

“War” by Luigi Pirandello

Passengers on a train carriage argue over who feels the most grief over their sons lost in WW I.

“The Last Lovely City” by Alice Adams

Benito Zamora, a doctor and widower, is invited to a dinner party by a young woman. He sees several people he is acquainted with, but he keeps to himself a lot.

“A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Shoba had a miscarriage six months ago, three weeks before she was due. She and her husband Shukumar get a notice from the electric company saying their power will be off for an hour for five consecutive evenings. While eating in candlelight, they decide to play a game where they will reveal something previously kept secret from each other.

Read here

“The Peach Stone” by Paul Horgan

A married couple, their son, and a teacher are taking a long car ride. The previous day, the couple’s two-year-old daughter had died in a fire. They are going to bury the dead child in the family plot.

Short Stories About Grief and Loss, Cont’d

“Currents” by Hannah Bottomy

Gary drinks at night, and his mother tucks his daughters into bed, telling them they’ll swim tomorrow and shouldn’t be afraid of the water. A Filipino boy had drowned, and the narrative moves back in time to fill in the day’s events.

“The Management of Grief” by Bharati Mukherjee

Shaila Bhave is an Indian Canadian woman mourning the loss of her husband and two sons in a plane crash. She is in a daze, and everything seems to remind her of her loss.

“The Function of Dream Sleep” by Harlan Ellison

McGrath wakes up and sees a large mouth closing up on his side. He’s sure it isn’t a dream—he sees and feels it. He gets a call from Sally, the widow of his recently deceased friend, Victor. In the morning, McGrath goes to the doctor about his side. She suggests that the recent deaths of several friends is affecting his mind.

“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.

“The Wig” by Brady Udall

An eight-year-old finds a wig in the garbage. He is sitting at the breakfast table wearing it when his father enters the room. It brings back memories for him.

Read “The Wig”

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway

An old man sits alone in a café and drinks, as is his custom. Two waiters talk about the man’s life and wish he would go home.

Read “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

“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.

Short Stories About Grief and Loss, Cont’d

“Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood

Lois, a widow, lives alone with her pictures—paintings and sketches of landscapes. She’s drawn to them although they make her uneasy. From nine to thirteen, Lois went to a summer camp where she made friends with Lucy, and they kept in touch by letter over the winters. Lois had an affecting experience in her final year at the camp.

Read “Death by Landscape” (PDF)

“Schrödinger’s Cat” by Ursula K. Le Guin

The narrator lives in a confusing world where things are very literal. He or she (?) also feels an unfocused sense of grief. The arrival of the mailman opens the possibility of an experiment.

“In Another Country” by David Constantine

Mr. Mercer receives a letter notifying him that Katya has been found in the ice. He claims he had already told Mrs. Mercer about Katya but she doesn’t remember.

“Pantaloon in Black” by William Faulkner

Rider, a huge strong black man, digs a grave for his deceased wife, Mannie. He won’t accept any help from his workmates. His aunt and friends want him to come with them but he refuses. He goes to his house. He sees Mannie standing in the kitchen door but she fades away. He goes to work the next morning but he’s still greatly effected by his grief.

“The Nurse” by Ben Ames Williams

Millie has been in a waiting room for three days. She’s about forty-five, and doesn’t take part in the conversation. She cries occasionally, which is one of the reasons she hasn’t been hired yet. She’s looking for a position as caregiver to a baby. She’s still in mourning over her last loss. Finally, she comes to an arrangement with Mrs. Jones.

Read “The Nurse”

“An Empty House With Many Doors” by Michael Swanwick

A man drinks while cleaning up his house. He takes out the garbage and gets his food. He thinks of Katherine, but is also forgetting what she looks like. He goes out for a walk, making his way among all the people. Suddenly, he sees something that, apparently, no one else can see.

“The Wives of the Dead” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The narrator relates a story that generated some interest about a hundred years ago in the Bay Province. Two women, married to two brothers, received the news that their husbands had been killed on consecutive days. Many guests came to offer condolences, and in their shared grief, they comforted each other.

Read “The Wives of the Dead”

I’ll keep adding short stories about grief, loss and sadness as I find more.