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 the third person Eddie meets in Heaven? What is this person’s connection to him?
To his surprise, the third person Eddie meets in Heaven is someone he doesn’t even recognize. But the old woman, Ruby, teaches him one of his most important lessons. Read about the third person Eddie meets in Heaven.
The Third Person Eddie Meets in Heaven
Eddie feels himself lifted up on a strong wind. The sky gathers around him and then explodes into a million stars. He finds himself in the most beautiful mountain range, ankle-deep in snow that doesn’t make him cold or wet. In the distance, he sees a flickering light.
Eddie feels his body for clues about where he could be. He’s flabbier in the middle now, but still muscular in his arms. He squeezes his left knee and feels the familiar throbbing pain. Frustrated, he wonders why pain and deterioration would follow you in heaven. But the third person Eddie meets in Heaven is about to teach him something else.
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. Who is the third person Eddie meets in Heaven, he wonders. Is it his father?
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 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.
Eddie Meets Ruby
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?
And of course, who is the third person Eddie meets in Heaven? 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 says she is the third person Eddie meets in Heaven. She tells Eddie her story.
The Old Woman’s Story
The third person Eddie meets in Heaven begins to tell her story. The elegant old woman sitting in front of Eddie was not always old or rich. She was once a young working girl, forced to leave school at fourteen to work in a diner called the Seahorse Grill. (When she says the name of the diner, Eddie’s memories come back to him. He had been to that diner many times before. It was right near Ruby Pier).
She was beautiful in those days and many men would see her in the diner and propose. But she was never interested until one day when a handsome young man named Emile made eye contact with her. Soon, they were courting.
Emile was a self-made man of means. He enjoyed taking risks and having fun. The couple would often go to seaside resorts. One day, sitting next to the ocean, Emile asked for her hand in marriage. She said yes, and Emile promised to build her a resort where they could stay forever young.
A few years later, he kept his promise. He opened a new resort at the end of the railroad line. The resort was grand, and had hundreds of performers, workers, and animals on staff. The entrance was extravagantly beautiful.
Floating above the snow, the old woman looks to Eddie as if she expects him to say something. She asks why he isn’t more interested to learn about the place where he and his father worked for so many years. The resort was named after her.
She curtsies and says, “I am Ruby.”
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.
Hearing the name Ruby, Eddie knows now why the woman looked familiar. He had seen her photograph at Ruby Pier. He pictures the original entrance to the park, and remembers that Ruby’s face had been painted there. But, the entrance had been destroyed in a fire.
Ruby’s face falls. She recalls how Emile had been preparing for the Fourth of July at Ruby Pier. He brought in fireworks for that weekend. But the night before, some of the park workers got ahold of them. They set them off and the sparks flew. The fire spread quickly. By the time someone warned Emile and Ruby, they could already see the park burning from their bedroom window.
Emile rushed to the scene and attempted to put out the fire with buckets of water. He was burned by a falling column. The tragedy injured his spirit just as much as his body, and he fell into depression. He lost his fortune and the gift he had given his beloved wife.
Emile and Ruby moved far away from Ruby Pier and lived the rest of their lives modestly. For the rest of her days, Ruby only wished for one thing: That Ruby Pier had never been built.
Looking up at the sky above him, Eddie realizes how often he had wished the same thing. But he still can’t figure out why he’s here with this woman he never met, listening to a story that happened before he was born.
Ruby tells him that all things that happen and people who live before you’re born still have an effect on your life. If she had never married Emile, there would be no Ruby Pier. And Eddie would have never worked there.
Eddie assumes that means that she is here to tell him about work. But she isn’t.
“I’m here to tell you why your father died,” says Ruby.
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.
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 his 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 Third Lesson
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. Who is the third person Eddie meets in Heaven to tell him about his own 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. With that, the third person Eddie meets in Heaven has taught him about forgiveness. That he must forgive his father for himself.
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, the third person Eddie meets in Heaven floats away into the sky.
The third person Eddie meets in Heaven helps him forgive his father. Later, Eddie works on forgiving himself using what he learned from his second person.
———End of Preview———
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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