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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Who is Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven? What does he have to do with Eddie’s life and death?
Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven is present throughout the story. Though Eddie doesn’t meet his father as one of the five people, Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven is one of the people he has the most connection with.
Eddie’s Father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Walking along the silent ridge toward the flickering light, he notices that it is the sign of a diner. Looking in through the glass door, he sees many different kinds of customers that appear to be from many different time periods and walks of life. Then, in the farthest booth from the door, he sees someone he thought he would never see again—his father.
Pounding against the glass, Eddie calls out for his dad over and over again as loudly as he can. But the man in the booth never looks up.
Eddie’s Twenty-Fourth Birthday
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.
All children are damaged by their parents in varying ways and by varying degrees. Over the course of Eddie’s life, the damage done by his father was that of neglect, then violence, then silence.
As an infant, Eddie was rarely held by his dad. As a child, no matter how hard Eddie tried to participate in his father’s interests, like cards and boardwalk maintenance, he was always pushed away. The primary rule for Eddie was “do not disturb.” Thus, the damage of neglect was done.
As Eddie grew older, his father would lash out at him and Joe whenever he was frustrated or drunk. Yelling at his mother to stay out of it, Eddie’s dad would throw things or hit them with a belt. This was the damage of violence.
Through it all, Eddie continued to adore his father and long for his approval. Sometimes, he even earned it. When his father asked him to fix something, Eddie would do so, come back, and say “it’s fixed.” This earned him a small smile. When he would win in a fight, his father would give him the slightest nod. Eddie would just nod back. In this way, Eddie learned that his father wanted everything to be kept inside, denying all words of affection.
After the war, the silence took over completely. It happened one night after Eddie had moved home from the hospital. Since being back, Eddie had been depressed—barely able to talk to anyone or even to leave the house. His father didn’t approve. He considered sadness a sign of weakness. That night, Eddie’s father began yelling at him, as he used to. He screamed at Eddie to get up and get a job. But when his father raised his fist to hit him, Eddie grabbed his arm and stopped him for the first time in his life. Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven never spoke to him again. The damage of silence was absolute.
Now sitting in the snow outside the diner, Eddie looks in on his father in the diner booth and realizes that he’s still being ignored, even in heaven.
Suddenly, he hears a woman’s voice tell him not to be angry because his father can’t hear him. Looking up, Eddie sees an elegant, old woman standing above him. She has her white hair pulled back to show her gaunt face. She wears an old-fashioned dress made of silk and holds a parasol.
Eddie asks the mysterious woman why his father can’t hear him. She answers that his father’s spirit is a part of her heaven, but he is not really there with her like Eddie is. When Eddie asks why his father would be a part of her eternity, she asks him to follow her.
All at once, Eddie and the old woman are at the bottom of the mountain, far from the diner. Eddie thinks the woman looks familiar. He asks if she is his third person, and she replies that she is. Eddie is overcome with questions.
Why is he meeting a stranger? Isn’t heaven supposed to be the place you go to reunite with all the people you loved in life—like Marguerite, Joe, and his mother? Why did they all have to die before Eddie?
Eddie wants to know if he can see Earth from here, or if he can go back to his life. The old woman tells him that he can’t. This frustrates Eddie, and he begins to rant. He tells the woman that he doesn’t feel like an angel and that heaven doesn’t make any sense to him. He tells her that he can’t remember his own death, and that he just wants peace. The woman tells him that he will only have peace once he makes it with himself.
Instead of explaining to the woman all of the helplessness and agitation he’s been consumed with since the war, he simply reminds her that he doesn’t even know who she is. The woman sits down in mid-air, floating effortlessly, and tells Eddie her story.
Eddie’s Father, Continued
In the hospital, Eddie’s father’s condition deteriorated. Eddie was forced to help out by taking over his father’s job at the pier on the weekends and evenings after driving his taxi. He was protecting his father’s job, hoping that his father would be able to return to work one day. After years of silence, Eddie went to visit his father in his hospital bed. Unable to think of anything to say, Eddie simply held up his grease-stained fingertips.
When his father died, Eddie felt empty and angry. A drunken fall into the ocean was hardly a heroic way to die. The only thing he kept of his father’s was a deck of cards.
After the small funeral, Eddie’s mother was changed. She still spoke and acted as if his father was there. When Eddie tried to remind his mother that his father was gone, she asked where he’d gone off to.
Eddie and Marguerite moved back into the building where he grew up to take care of his mother. He quit driving taxis and took the job he’d been training for his whole life—working maintenance at Ruby Pier.
Eddie was angry. He cursed his father for dying and trapping him in this life he’d always wanted to escape.
Ruby asks Eddie if the pier was really as terrible as Eddie always thought. Eddie tries to explain that he was stuck in a life he didn’t choose, a life just like his father’s. Ruby says that Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven was hard on him, but asks Eddie to consider if he was hard on his father, as well.
Eddie feels anger growing inside him. His father tried to hit him. His father’s last words to him were “get a job.” He tells Ruby that she didn’t even know his father.
But Ruby knows something that Eddie doesn’t know. With the tip of her parasol, Ruby draws a circle in the snow. Eddie looks down into the circle as though his eyes are falling through a hole. This is what he sees:
- He is looking down on his parents’ apartment years ago. His mother is sitting at the kitchen table, across from Mickey Shea, who is obviously drunk. Eddie can’t hear what they’re saying, but he sees his mother go into her bedroom. Mickey Shea follows her and surprises her by grabbing her, pushing her into the wall, and kissing her. She tries to struggle away. Soon, Eddie’s father comes in the front door and sees what Mickey is doing to his wife. He sees Eddie’s mother crying and gasping. Then he chases Mickey out of the apartment and into the rain, following him with a hammer.
Eddie yells out in disbelief. He can’t understand what he just saw. He asks Ruby, but she stays silent. Stepping to the side, she draws another circle in the snow. Eddie tries to resist, but again his eyes fall toward the scene:
- Eddie can see Mickey stumbling toward the farthest edge of Ruby Pier. Mickey lays at the edge of the pier with his face up to the pouring rain. Then he drunkenly rolls off the edge and into the sea. Eddie’s father reaches the edge of the dock, still holding his hammer. Searching the water, he begins to take off his shoes and tool belt. He jumps off the pier and into the water after an unconscious Mickey. Eddie sees his father fighting hard against the sea, kicking with all his might to get Mickey back to shore. Finally, they arrive on the sand. Eddie’s father collapses in exhaustion. He lies there on the beach with his mouth open to the rain.
When Eddie’s vision returns, he feels tired and heavy. He asks Ruby what his father was doing. Ruby says that he was saving a friend. Even though Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven had originally been chasing after Mickey with the intent to hurt him, maybe even kill him, he saved Mickey’s life.
Eddie can only focus on what Mickey had done to his mother. But Ruby tells Eddie that Mickey had once been a great friend to his father—Mickey helped him get a job and he loaned the family money when Eddie was born. Eddie’s father acted out of loyalty that night, and died of pneumonia because of it.
Eddie can’t imagine why his father never said anything about that night. Ruby tells him that silence was a refuge for his father, a way to hide his shame for everyone involved. In the hospital, Eddie’s mother stayed by his bedside every day, until one night she went home to rest. That next morning, the nurse found Eddie’s father dead, halfway out the window.
Eddie is confused. Why would he be at the window?
Ruby tells Eddie that during the night, just before he died, Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven staggered to the window, opened it, and started calling out to Eddie, Joe, and their mother. It seemed that his heart was finally spilling out all that he wanted to say. The cold was too much for him, and he was dead by morning.
Eddie is stunned. Thinking about his tough, old father trying to crawl out the window leaves him with so many questions. He asks Ruby how she knows all of this about his father. She sighs and explains that she was in the hospital room with him. Her husband Emile was the other patient in the room.
Ruby felt connected to Eddie’s family because of their connection with Ruby Pier. She thought that the park had cursed their lives, and her wish that Ruby Pier had never been built followed her all the way to heaven. That’s why Ruby’s heaven is a diner. It’s a place where all of the souls who have ever suffered at Ruby Pier can stay safe, far away from the ocean.
Ruby and Eddie stand. Finally, Eddie admits to Ruby that he hated his father. He hated him for the way he was treated his whole life. Ruby asks Eddie to learn this lesson from her story: Holding onto anger is poisonous. You may think anger will act as a weapon toward others, but it only hurts yourself.
Ruby touches his hand and says, “You need to forgive your father.”
Eddie considers his life after his father’s funeral and how he was never able to break free of the life at Ruby Pier. Over the years, he blamed his father for all the what-ifs left unexplored. He tells Ruby that he was stuck, but Ruby shakes her head. She says that Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven is not the reason he lived his whole life at the pier.
Eddie’s father in The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a consistent presence throughout his life, and part of his struggle to let go. With help, Eddie learns to forgive him.
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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