Learn to Forgive: Lessons From Eddie’s Heaven

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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How do you learn to forgive? Can you learn to forgive yourself and others?

For main character Eddie in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, he didn’t learn to forgive until after his death; Eddie was able to make peace in the afterlife, but Mitch Albom’s book, and Eddie’s tale, can help you learn to forgive in this life instead of the next.

Learn to Forgive

During his journey in the afterlife, Eddie has to learn to forgive himself and others. One of the important people Eddie has to learn to forgive is his father.

Learn to Forgive Others

All children become damaged to some degree by their parents. Over the course of his life, Eddie’s father damaged him through neglect, then violence, then silence. Eddie’s father rarely held Eddie. He would beat Eddie and his brother, Joe. One night, Eddie grabbed his father’s fist, instead of letting him hit Eddie like normal. That was the last time his father ever spoke to him. 

On Eddie’s thirty-third birthday, Eddie’s mom called him to tell him that his father had collapsed and gone to the hospital. He eventually died of pneumonia after coming home drunk and wet from the ocean. Eddie was disappointed in his father’s unheroic death. When Eddie decided to move home to take care of his mother, he blamed his father for all of his disappointment at being stuck in Ruby Pier. 

Eddie Learns to Forgive His Father

Ruby shows Eddie the real reason for his father’s death: Eddie’s father jumped into the ocean to save his friend Mickey Shea. Mickey had gotten drunk and tried to kiss Eddie’s mother. Even though Eddie’s father had planned to hurt Mickey, he ultimately chose to save his life when he saw him fall into the ocean unconscious. 

Ruby tells Eddie that he should learn from this story that holding onto anger is poisonous. You may think anger will act as a weapon toward others, but it only hurts you. She tells Eddie that he needs to forgive his father for all that he blamed him for. 

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 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 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 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.” 

Ruby tells Eddie that he should learn from this story that holding onto anger is poisonous. You may think anger will act as a weapon toward others, but it only hurts you. She tells Eddie that he needs to forgive his father for all that he blamed him for. 

So Eddie goes back into the diner and makes amends with his father. 

Forgiving the Captain

Eddie finds out that the Captain shot him in the leg, and needs his forgiveness. Eddie has to learn to forgive someone this time whom he wasn’t holding anger over.

The Captain tells Eddie that he’s been waiting for him all this time because he has a lesson that Eddie needs to hear. He says that sacrifice is a part of life that we are meant to be proud of. The Captain wants Eddie to understand that he didn’t die for nothing. Because he stepped on that land mine, everyone else in the transport was able to go on living. When Eddie sacrificed his leg, it made him angry and full of regret. But the Captain tells Eddie that he gained something in that moment, too. He just doesn’t know it yet. 

The Captain holds out his hand and asks Eddie to forgive him for shooting his leg. Eddie realizes that all the anger he’s been holding onto is nothing compared to the sacrifice that the Captain made. He takes the Captain’s hand and grips it firmly.

As soon as the Captain has Eddie’s forgiveness, the old tree above them begins to grow new leaves. The barren ground that Eddie remembers from the war turns into a beautiful landscape of grass and the sky turns blue. The Captain has seen it this way the whole time he’s been in heaven because his idea of heaven is a world without war. 

Knowing that the Captain will be leaving soon, Eddie can’t help but ask if he was able to save the little girl on the pier. The Captain is sympathetic, but can’t tell Eddie what he longs to know. Instead, he throws Eddie his helmet. When Eddie looks down, there’s a photo of Marguerite inside. And when he looks up, the Captain is gone.

Eddie Learns to Forgive Himself

Finally, Eddie has to learn to forgive himself for the harm he caused others. Due to this, he meets Tala.

Tala tells Eddie that she used to have to hide from soldiers. Eddie is horrified because he knows that she was the shadow he saw in the flames the day of his escape from captivity. Looking into Tala’s eyes, he is heartbroken. He begins to sob and wail, asking for forgiveness for the things he’s done. Eddie continues to weep while Tala plays with her pipe cleaner dog. 

Tala hands Eddie a stone and asks him to wash her. She removes her shirt and Eddie is startled to see that her skin is burned and scarred. As he washes her with the stone, the scars begin to fall away. 

Tala uses her fingers to tell Eddie that she is his fifth person. A tear falls down Eddie’s cheek, and Tala asks him why he was sad in his life. Just like he told the Blue Man, the Captain, Ruby, and Marguerite, Eddie says that he was sad because he was stuck at Ruby Pier his whole life. He didn’t feel that’s where he was meant to be. But Tala tells him that he was meant to stay at Ruby Pier. He was keeping other children safe—making up for the harm that he accidentally caused Tala. Then she calls him “Eddie Maintenance.”

Suddenly, the river water begins to rise. Eddie is carried away by a current. He is still holding Tala’s hand. As he continues to float along, he feels his soul leaving his body. He is going through the colors again, like he did when he first arrived in heaven, and he realizes that these are all of the emotions he felt in life. Soon, he emerges from the water into a dazzling light. This is what he sees:

  • Thousands of happy men, women, and children are walking along the boardwalk of Ruby Pier. These are all of the people in the past, present, and future who Eddie has affected in his time as a maintenance man. Hearing the voices of all the people that he has kept safe, Eddie feels peace.

Eddie had a life marred by several tragedies. But he didn’t learn to forgive, and he spent much of his life alone. Eventually, in his death, Eddie does learn to forgive, and he’s able to be at peace.

Learn to Forgive: Lessons From Eddie’s Heaven

———End of Preview———

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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