Eddie’s Birthday Timeline: A Life Told Through Stories

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Five People You Meet In Heaven" by Mitch Albom. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is the significance of Eddie’s birthday in The Five People You Meet in Heaven? What does his birthday have to do with his death and the story?

Throughout the book, Eddie’s birthday is brought up as a way to discuss his life story and his memories. Eddie’s birthday connects him and the reader to major events and people in his life.

A Timeline of Eddie’s Birthday

Throughout the book, Eddie’s birthday plays an important part in telling the story of his life, and how he became the person he was at the time of his death. Below, you’ll find a timeline of Eddie’s birthdays.

Eddie’s First Birthday

In a crowded hospital room in the 1920s, Eddie’s father smokes a cigarette and waits. Finally, a nurse enters and calls his name. He is shown into the nursery where the nurse passes several babies that aren’t his. Then, she nods towards a tiny baby in a blue cap, covered in a blanket. The father takes a deep breath and cries happy tears. 

Eddie’s Fifth Birthday

On a Sunday afternoon at Ruby Pier amusement park, Eddie plays with his birthday presents. He got a red cowboy hat and a toy holster. Eddie’s dad plays cards with his fellow maintenance men while his older brother, Joe, does push-ups to impress women. 

All of a sudden, a man named Mickey Shea picks Eddie up, turns him upside down, and gives him his “Eddie birthday bumps.” According to the Irish tradition, he lifts and lowers Eddie until his head bumps the floor one time for each of his five birthdays. Eddie does not like being upside down.

Once it’s over, Eddie weakly punches Mickey in the arm and tries to run away. Eddie’s mom picks him up, gives him a hug, and walks with him along the pier. Holding his mom’s hand and hearing her call him a good boy makes everything in the world feel right-side-up again.

Eddie’s Seventh Birthday

For his seventh birthday, Eddie gets a brand new baseball. He and Joe play catch along Ruby Pier. Pretending to be a professional baseball player, he launches the ball toward his brother. But Joe ducks and the ball goes rolling across the boardwalk and behind the freak show tent.

Eddie and Joe enter the tent to retrieve the baseball. Joe gets scared and runs away crying. Eddie bravely gets the ball and goes toward the arcade after his brother. 

Eddie tries to tell the Blue Man that there’s no way he could have caused his death. So the Blue Man tells his side of the story. 

Every story has different angles. Like the story of Eddie’s seventh birthday. To Eddie, the story had a happy ending. He spent the rest of his birthday in the Ruby Pier arcade, playing with his brother. For the Blue Man, the story ended very differently. 

On the day of Eddie’s birthday, the Blue Man had been practicing his driving in a friend’s Ford Model A. All of a sudden, he saw a baseball bouncing across the road, and a young boy chasing after it. The Blue Man slammed on the breaks and swerved out of the way to avoid hitting Eddie. He lost control of the car, and suffered extreme stress. The Blue Man had a heart attack behind the wheel and died alone at Ruby Pier. 

Eddie’s Eighth Birthday

Eddie is sitting on the edge of the couch, pouting and complaining because he has to get dressed up and go somewhere on his birthday instead of getting to play. His father yells at him to be quiet, and Eddie obeys. 

Later, at the cemetery, Eddie notices that all the people from Ruby Pier, who normally dress in funny outfits, are wearing black. Eddie knows that he is supposed to be sad about something, but he is secretly counting down the moments until he can go back to Eddie’s birthday celebrations.

Eddie’s Seventeenth Birthday

Up in his bedroom, Eddie can smell the special “Eddie birthday dinner” his mom is cooking for him. He’s reading a comic book when she calls him to come downstairs and join the family. 

When he gets to the kitchen, Joe announces that Eddie met a girl the night before at Ruby Pier. Eddie is embarrassed, but Joe doesn’t stop. He continues to say that Eddie wants to marry this girl. Eddie punches Joe on the arm, and the two fight until their father breaks it up. 

Later, after dinner, Eddie’s mother turns on the radio to news of war. Because it’s Eddie’s birthday, she chooses to turn the dial until there’s music. She asks Eddie to dance with her like he danced with the girl he met. Soon, Eddie, Joe, and their mother are all dancing around the living room and laughing together. 

Eddie’s Eighteenth Birthday

This year, Eddie’s cake is decorated with the words “Good luck! Fight hard!” Eddie is playing with his little cousins when the door opens and Marguerite walks in from the rain. She has brought him a birthday gift—a going away gift—and the sight of her holding it gives Eddie butterflies. He wonders if this is a weakness that he shouldn’t take to war. 

Later that night, after celebrating Eddie’s birthday with the family, Eddie takes Marguerite for a walk along the Ruby Pier boardwalk. They eat taffy and play games and hold hands. It’s like a scene from a movie. 

All night, there has been something on Eddie’s mind that he hasn’t been able to ask. Finally, Marguerite saves him from the awkwardness of having to ask: She promises to wait for him. Just as the rain starts to fall, she asks Eddie to come home safely. He isn’t sure if it’s tears or rainwater rolling down her cheeks. 

Eddie’s Twenty-Fourth Birthda

Eddie’s parents stand with Joe, Marguerite, and Mickey Shea in the hallway outside Eddie’s V.A. hospital room. They light his candles and carefully approach his bed singing. Eddie can’t help but feel as though he’d rather be alone. 

Everyone tries to put Eddie at ease except for his father, who stands against the wall in silence. 

Eddie’s Thirty-Third Birthday

Eddie jolts awake. He is gasping for breath and covered in sweat—he’s been dreaming of war. Knowing he won’t be able to go back to sleep, Eddie rolls quietly out of bed so he won’t wake Marguerite. 

Eddie thinks about how different he feels since the war, like he can’t find happiness. He can’t express to Marguerite the darkness he feels inside, and how it has stopped him from living the life he imagined. So he just goes to work driving his taxi. 

That night, when he comes home, he hears the song that he and Marguerite danced to the night they met on the pier. Seeing Marguerite standing in her best dress, holding taffy, and singing him happy birthday, Eddie is able to fight off the darkness inside of him. They share a kiss.  

Then, a neighbor knocks on the door and tells Eddie there’s someone on the phone. He warns Eddie that something has happened to his father. 

It is Eddie’s mother on the phone. She tells him his father collapsed that afternoon at Ruby Pier. One week ago he came home drunk and wet from the ocean. He’s been coughing and feverish ever since. It turns out he has pneumonia. 

Eddie’s mother is frantic, saying that she should have taken him to the doctor sooner. Eddie is angry that she would blame herself for this. He can hear her crying through the phone.

Eddie’s Thirty-Seventh Birthday

Eddie sits in a diner booth, eating breakfast with his buddy Noel. Eddie seems cranky. It’s a hot and humid Saturday morning, and he knows that it will be a busy day at Ruby Pier. 

Noel holds up a magazine with a young man on the front, a presidential candidate. Noel is surprised that someone so young could even run for president. Eddie mumbles that the man is about the same age as they are, and they’re getting old. Noel asks if he’s always this fun on Eddie’s birthday. 

The two talk about an accident that happened in a nearby amusement park, a woman and her child who fell to their deaths. Though Eddie doesn’t know any of the people who work in that park, he can’t help but shudder. He wonders who was in charge.

Throughout the meal, Eddie continues to complain. He’s consumed by his darkness. Noel offers to take him to the horse track. Even though Eddie thinks of Marguerite waiting at home, he agrees to go.

Eddie’s Thirty-Eighth Birthday

Joe is sitting in Eddie’s maintenance shop showing him a new battery-operated drill. Joe is a hardware salesman now, and makes three times as much money as Eddie does. Eddie has taken the promotion to head of maintenance at Ruby Pier, his dad’s old job. Eddie resents it and wishes he could switch places with Joe. 

Marguerite comes to the door of the shop wearing her Ruby Pier uniform. Seeing her in the red vest and beret makes Eddie embarrassed in front of Joe. But Marguerite smiles and asks Eddie to step outside with her. When he does, there is a group of children waiting to shout happy birthday to him. 

Eddie is touched. He loves seeing Marguerite around children. He knows it’s a shame that she can’t bear any of her own. She’s been asking him to consider adoption, but he feels they’re too old. 

Marguerite and the kids light 38 candles on top of the messy cake. A child pokes Eddie and tells him to blow them all out and once. He looks at his wife and says “I will.” Marguerite takes a Polaroid photo of the moment.

Eddie’s Thirty-Ninth Birthday

Eddie and Noel left work at Ruby Pier to gamble at the race track. Eddie won two bets early on and now has $209 dollars in his pocket. Noel is trying to convince Eddie to risk the money on another bet and win more money for their future child. Eddie feels guilty about gambling his money now that he and Marguerite are planning to adopt. But he places a bet on a horse named Jersey Finch anyway. 

Just in the knick of time, Jersey Finch pulls ahead. Eddie has won over $800! He’s excited, so he wants to call his wife and tell her the good news. Noel tries to warn Eddie that Marguerite might not take the news well. That turns out to be true. 

On the phone, Marguerite tells Eddie that he has to stop behaving this way. Eddie is angry about the fight and passes his winnings through the window to place another bet. He knows it’s not a good idea. 

What Eddie doesn’t know is that Marguerite has decided to come to the track to apologize for fighting with him on Eddie’s birthday. She gets in the car and drives toward the race track. Up ahead on an overpass, two drunk teenagers are throwing their empty liquor bottles down onto the street below. Marguerite is thinking about Eddie when one of the bottles smashes through her windshield.

Marguerite’s accident sends her to the hospital. She is confined to her bed for months. As a result, they have to give up on the adoption. For many years, Eddie and Marguerite live under the shadow of that disappointment and blame. 

In time, Eddie and Marguerite found new ways to speak to each other again and their love grew back. 

Three years later, Marguerite passed out in the kitchen. The doctors found a tumor on her brain. When it became clear that the cancer would defeat her, she told them to release her from the hospital. Eddie cooked dinner for all of their friends. Then one morning, Marguerite woke up screaming in pain and they went to the hospital where they could see the Ruby Park Ferris wheel from the parking lot.

More of Eddie’s Birthdays

Eddie is 51. For Eddie, birthday celebrations since losing Marguerite are bad. She would always insist Eddie celebrate his birthday with taffy, friends, and cake. Now, he doesn’t celebrate—he goes to work and comes home to watch TV, as he always does. 

Eddie’s 60th birthday is a Wednesday. He makes himself a sandwich and uses a piece of it as bait for fishing.

On Eddie’s 68th birthday, Joe calls him from Florida. Eddie mostly just says “uh-huh.”

Eddie turns 75 on a Monday. He notices that one of the Ruby Pier workers missed a brake test on one of the rides the night before. So Eddie sighs and checks it himself. 

Eddie is 82. He has a taxi pick him up from Ruby Pier and take him to the cemetery. He visits his mother’s grave, Joe’s grave, and his father’s. He saves Marguerite for last. He imagines eating taffy with her one last time.

Eddie’s birthdays are not always happy memories. Particularly after the death of his wife, Eddie’s birthdays are sad and lonely. In the book, they show the person he was and the life he led, and they help him make peace with the past.

Eddie’s Birthday Timeline: A Life Told Through Stories

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Mitch Albom's "The Five People You Meet In Heaven" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Five People You Meet In Heaven summary:

  • Who the Five People Eddie meets in heaven are
  • What each person teaches Eddie about the meaning of his own life
  • Why Eddie finally feels gratitude and closure at the end of his life

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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