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 are The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons, and what do they mean? What does Eddie’s journey tell you about life?
In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, lessons are an important part of the story. The lessons help readers think about bigger topics like human connection, and they help main character Eddie deal with the afterlife.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven Lessons
The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons are about learning to live without regret and being at peace. Each person Eddie meets offers a lesson and contributes to the five lessons Eddie learns in heaven.
Eddie’s First Lesson
Eddie is scared and defensive after learning he contributed to the Blue Man’s death. He promises the Blue Man that he had no idea what he had done. He is afraid that he will have to pay for his sin. This is the first of The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons.
The Blue Man smiles and reassures him that he is only here to learn. He says that all five people that Eddie will come across in heaven have one lesson to teach him: that all lives are connected and nothing is completely random.
The Blue Man lifts his hand and suddenly they are standing in the cemetery where he was buried. Eddie looks around at the funeral he attended as a boy, realizing he had no idea the part he played in it. He wonders if there was a funeral for his own death. He asks the Blue Man if he saved the little girl at the pier. The Blue Man doesn’t answer, so Eddie assumes that his death was a waste.
The Blue man says, “the only time wasted is the time we spend thinking we’re alone.”
The Blue Man takes Eddie into a hug and Eddie is flooded with all of the emotions that the Blue Man felt in his life – the nerves, the loneliness, the embarrassment. As the Blue Man goes to leave, his skin turns a lovely shade of caramel, the most beautiful skin Eddie has ever seen.
Eddie tries to call to the Blue Man, to ask him to stay, but he is suddenly carried into the air. He flies away from the cemetery and past Ruby Pier.
Eddie’s Second Lesson
The second of The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons is Eddie’s lesson with the Captain. After the Captain tells him the truth, Eddie is overcome. He says that he had no idea about the terrible circumstances of the Captain’s death. He asks the Captain if he’s been waiting for Eddie here, in the place of his death, this whole time. But the Captain counters by saying that Eddie doesn’t understand what time really is.
The Captain tells Eddie to think about Adam and Eve. The first time Adam ever went to sleep, he thought it was the end of his existence. But he woke up the next day with a whole new day before him, and the memory of the day before. The Captain smiles and says that’s what heaven is for: To understand all your yesterdays.
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’s Third Lesson
After Eddie talks with Ruby, they continue to the third of The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons. 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.”
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 is not the reason he lived his whole life at the pier.
Eddie attempts to ask Ruby what she means, but she begins walking away. She says that Eddie still has two people left to meet. Then everything goes black.
All at once, Ruby is gone and Eddie is back in front of the diner at the top of the mountain. He realizes she is not coming back, so he slowly enters. Somehow, he knows what he must do. So he walks to the booth at the back of the room.
Eddie drops to his knees in front of his father, who is younger than Eddie now. Eddie feels emotion welling in his chest. Eddie’s father still can’t hear him, but Eddie speaks to him anyway. He tells his father that he has been angry with him for the beating and the silence. But he admits that he didn’t know his father very well, didn’t know what he had been through.
Finally, he leans into his father. Like he used to as a boy, he says “it’s fixed.”
Across the diner, he sees Ruby. She is young and beautiful now. She nods to Eddie and floats away into the sky. This is one of the most emotional of the five lessons Eddie learns in heaven.
Eddie’s Fourth Lesson
After meeting Marguerite, she and Eddie talk. Eventually, after many talks and many weddings together, Marguerite and Eddie come back into the small round room. Marguerite sits in front of the mirror. Eddie can see her reflection, but his is still not there. The lesson with Marguerite is one of the five lessons Eddie learns in heaven, and one he most struggled with in his life.
Marguerite asks Eddie if he was angry with her when she died and left him alone. He tries to deny it, but has to admit that he was angry to have to lose the woman he loved so young. She takes his hands and tells him that he didn’t lose her—she was always with him.
Marguerite explains that even though life has to end, that doesn’t mean love has to end. Lost love is still love. She assures Eddie that she could feel his love all this time, all the way in heaven.
Smiling, Marguerite opens a door and shows Eddie into a small room with an accordion player in the corner. She says that she saved this wedding for last and jokes that they should play bingo.
Eddie takes Marguerite in his arms to dance with her. She looks exactly like she did on the day of their wedding, but Eddie asks her to change into the version of herself that she was at the end of her life. To him, she is still just as beautiful. Holding her in his arms, Eddie closes his eyes and says that he doesn’t want to go on with heaven. He wants to stay here with her.
When he opens his eyes again, she is gone. This is the fourth of The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons.
Eddie’s Final Lesson
In the last of The Five People You Meet in Heaven lessons, Eddie meets a strange little girl. The little girl standing before Eddie has beautiful, dark skin and arresting black eyes. She waves her hands excitedly to Eddie. Her name is Tala. He repeats, “Tala.” Then she begins to name things in her own language and Eddie imitates each word.
Eddie sees the other children in the water around them. They are bathing with stones. Tala says that is how their mothers used to wash them. Then Tala notices pipe cleaners in Eddie’s shirt. He twists up a little dog for her. He asks her if she likes the toy, but she answers “You burn me.”
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.”
Sitting in the river, Eddie can sense that he will be moving on soon. So he asks Tala if she knows about the little girl he died trying to save. He wants to know if he was able to pull her out in time. Tala says no.
Eddie didn’t pull the little girl, he pushed her out of the way of the falling car and into safety.
Eddie is confused, because the only thing he remembered of his last moment was the little girl’s hands in his. Tala smiles and holds Eddie’s hands. The hands Eddie remembers were Tala’s hands as she pulled him into heaven to keep him safe.
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.
Letting go of Tala’s hand, Eddie floats up above the park. At the top of the Ferris wheel, Marguerite waits for him with open arms. Marguerite’s smile and the voices of the children down below are like a message from God: Eddie is home.
In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, lessons show the important ways Eddie changed and lived his life. The lessons also show readers ways they can work on their relationships and start to live without regret.
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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