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 major The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes? What can these themes teach you about love, life, and happiness?
The main character, Eddie, is an angry old man. But when he dies saving a little girl, his journey to Heaven reveals much more. In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, themes like forgiveness and regret are explored. Read more about the most important The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven: Themes
The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes can help you understand concepts like life, love, and happiness.
One of the major The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes is forgiveness. Eddie learns to forgive his father, and himself.
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.
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.
So Eddie goes back into the diner and makes amends with his father.
2. Regret and Anger
Another one of the big The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes is regret and anger. Eddie holds onto anger for things he can’t control.
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.
Another of the The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes is sacrifice. Eddie makes sacrifices for others, but others also make them for him.
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.
Just as Eddie sent the last building up in flames, he saw a small shadow moving inside. He became manic, thinking he left a child burning inside. He couldn’t bring himself to leave the burning building until he felt an intense pain in his leg.
Sometime later, Eddie woke up in a medical unit. He learned that he’d been shot in the leg, and the wound will never fully heal. After that, Eddie was never the same.
The Captain’s Sacrifice
The Captain looks straight at Eddie and tells him that he was the one who shot Eddie in the leg all those years ago. He knew that Eddie would never have been able to leave that burning building, so he had to take Eddie’s leg to save Eddie’s life.
Later that night, the Captain was driving the transport with an unconscious Eddie in the back. He hopped out to look for danger on the road ahead. Just as he signaled to his soldiers that the road was clear, a land mine exploded under his foot. The Captain was launched into the air and torn into a hundred pieces.
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. He asks for Eddie’s forgiveness for shooting him in the leg. Realizing that the Captain sacrificed his own life to save Eddie’s, Eddie shakes the Captain’s hand.
Eddie loved his wife, Marguerite. Learning about the power of love is another of the important The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes.
Every man and woman has a certain kind of love, one of love’s many forms. Eddie’s love for Marguerite was grateful and deep, but also quiet. After he lost her, the rest of his days were dull. Now, Eddie is standing in front of his wife again. She is as young and beautiful as on their wedding day, not old and suffering like she was toward the end of her life. She asks him to take a walk and lifts him effortlessly off of his injured knee. Eddie is tongue-tied.
Marguerite motions around the Italian village they walk through. She says that she wanted a heaven with weddings behind every door because she loves to see the look of wonder in the eyes of the bride and groom. She asks if Eddie believes they had that same sense of possibility.
- Eddie and Marguerite’s wedding took place in a small Chinese restaurant. They used the same chairs for the ceremony and the reception. There was an accordion player. Marguerite joked that they should have played bingo. When the simple reception was over, Marguerite pulled a pink sweater over her wedding dress and walked home with Eddie in the rain. They held hands, and everything felt safe.
Walking on, Eddie asks Marguerite if she also met five people and if they were able to make a difference. She says that they did. He asks if she knows about his life since her own death. Carefully, she answers that she only knows what happened when they were together and why those things happened. She also knows how much Eddie loved her.
But Marguerite doesn’t know how Eddie died. He tries to explain the ride, the accident, Dom, the little girl. It’s the most he’s spoken since arriving in heaven. She smiles and it fills him with sadness. He can only tell her that he’s sorry for his faults, and that he has missed her.
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.
5. We Are Connected
One of the biggest The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes is that we are all connected, and share one story. Eddie finds this out through his conversations with his five people, and his sacrfice to save the little girl at Ruby Pier.
All of a sudden, Eddie hears screams and immediately knows something is wrong. Looking up, he sees the cart of the Freddy’s Free Fall ride dangling at a dangerous angle. The passengers are terrified. He calls to Dom and the rest of the park maintenance and security teams. He gives everyone directions of how to handle the situation. He tells them to evacuate the passengers from the ride, then send the broken cart down to be examined.
Eddie could never have known this, but a few months earlier, a young man lost his car key at Ruby Pier. He had been keeping it in his jacket pocket while he rode the rides. As it turns out, the key had fallen and become lodged in Freddy’s Free Fall and had been slowly wearing away at the cable. There was no way to see that this was happening. Every person’s story overlaps with someone else’s.
Joseph was outcast from society because of his blue skin. He was forced to take a job in the freak show at Ruby Pier. One day, Joseph was practicing driving in his friend’s car when he saw a baseball roll across the road. A young boy ran to chase it. Joseph swerved out of the way, but the stress caused him to have a heart attack. He died that day.
Every story has different angles. It turns out that the young boy chasing the baseball was Eddie on his seventh birthday. Eddie unknowingly killed the Blue Man.
Ruby Pier Amusement park opened again three days after Eddie’s death. The story stayed in the newspaper for a week. Freddy’s Free Fall reopened the next year with a new name—Daredevil Drop. Dominguez took over Eddie’s job as the head of maintenance.
The apartment Eddie lived in for almost his entire life was rented out to someone new, and all of his possessions were put into a trunk. They were stored alongside some Ruby Pier memorabilia, including a photo of the first entrance.
The young man, Nicky, replaced the car key that he lost at Ruby Pier. He continued to come back to the park. He loved to brag that his great-grandmother was the Ruby, after whom the park was named.
Years passed. Each summer, when the days got longer, people returned to Ruby Pier. They stood in lines to ride the rides.
In heaven, another line was forming: A line of five people in their five chosen heavens. These five people were waiting for a young girl with blonde curls to grow up, to live her life, and eventually to die.
One of the people waiting in line to explain to the girl with curls why she lived is an old man named Eddie who she’ll meet in the Stardust Band Shell. Someday, he’ll share with her what he’s learned: that every person’s story affects the next person’s story. In fact, all the stories are one.
These The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes can help you explore these ideas in your own life. You can use the The Five People You Meet in Heaven themes to examine loss, regret, and more.
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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