Life and death are a continuous cycle, making birth and death different ends of the same spectrum of existence. Eddie’s life story is told in intertwining vignettes, in which the beginning and end of his life melt together as if they were always happening at the same time. In heaven, the agelessness of characters like Marguerite, the Captain, Ruby, and Tala implies that birth and death are all happening at once from the viewpoint of eternity.
In Albom’s novel death isn’t the end, but another kind of beginning. As the Captain explains to Eddie, people naively think that death is the end in the same way that the first man, Adam, may have thought that he was dying on the first night he went to sleep. Because existence on earth is all that people know, they fail to realize that death is a kind of sleep that ushers them into a new experience, a “tomorrow.” The point of heaven, the Captain explains, is to have a place in which to deeply explore “your yesterday.” In heaven, every character who has died experiences a new kind of existence.
Highlighting that death is a mirror of life, Eddie goes through the same physical and emotional changes he experienced throughout his life on earth. When Eddie first arrives in heaven, he feels nimble like a child. Yet as he moves through the stages and meets the five people, he physically feels his body changing, as if it were aging again. He sees the skies changing color as he falls through each part of heaven, and he feels a whirl of emotions—sadness, love, peace, fear, joy—as he sees the colors change. At the end of the novel, he realizes these colors are all the emotions of his life.’
Loss, represented by death, is an essential part of life that is pervasive throughout the novel. The pain of loss gives meaning to the things and people lost, highlighting how without death there is no shape to life. Eddie deeply mourns the loss of his leg, of his joy, and later of Marguerite. Yet his losses also give meaning to the things he has felt and had. By losing Marguerite, Eddie feels fully the weight of the love he had for her. And just as death is not really the end, neither is loss permanent—in heaven, Eddie regains his mobility, his joy, and Marguerite.
The Cycle of Life and Death ThemeTracker
The Cycle of Life and Death Quotes in The Five People You Meet in Heaven
It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.
Later, she will walk him along the pier, perhaps take him on an elephant ride, or watch the fishermen pull in their evening nets, the fish flipping like shiny, wet coins. She will hold his hand and tell him God is proud of him for being a good boy on his birthday, and that will make the world feel right-side up again.
People think of heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains. But scenery without solace is meaningless. This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life.
You are here so I can teach you something (…) That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.
It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.
Strangers (…) are just family you have yet to come to know.”
Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad, layered stories of life, which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.
Adam’s first night on earth? (…) He doesn’t know what sleep is. His eyes are closing and he thinks he’s leaving this world, right? Only he isn’t. He wakes up the next morning and he has a fresh new world to work with. But he has something else, too. He has his yesterday (…) That’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays.
What people find then is a certain love. And Eddie found a certain love with Marguerite, a grateful love, a deep and quiet love, but one that he knew, above all else, was irreplaceable. Once she’d gone (…) he put his heart to sleep.
He was nothing now, a leaf in the water, and she pulled him gently, through shadow and light, through shades of blue and ivory and lemon and black, and he realized all these colors, all along, were the emotions of his life.
And in that line now was a whiskered old man (…) who waited in a place called the Stardust Band Shell to share his part of the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.