Susie explains that “you don’t notice the dead leaving when they choose to leave you. You’re not meant to.” She notes that Grandma Lynn died several years later, but Susie has not seen her in heaven—she is sure that Grandma Lynn will come to meet her “in her own sweet time.” Susie confesses that she still, sometimes, sneaks away to watch her family—she can’t help it, just as they can’t help thinking of her.
Susie has finally reached a place of acceptance where she feels ready to move on. She understands now that everything must happen in its own time. Just as it took her many, many years to feel that she could move on from her family, she knows now that Grandma Lynn will navigate her own heaven in her own way, and in her own time.
Lindsey and Samuel marry, and soon begin clearing the lot around the empty house on Route 30. Mr. Connors agreed to sell them the house if Samuel paid him in labor, as the first employee in a restoration business. As Samuel and Lindsey restore the house, Lindsey discovers that she is pregnant. The Salmons are all overjoyed, and Jack hopes that one day he will be able to teach another child to build ships in bottles, though he knows the act will always “hold an echo” of Susie.
Lindsey was told early on after her sister’s death that she now represented the future of the Salmon family, and carried the burden of keeping her sister’s legacy and memory alive. Lindsey’s happiness, health, and success in love represents the fulfillment of this prophecy. Life is uncontainable, and grief is not unending.
Susie says that her heaven is neither perfect nor gritty. It is a fun place, though not necessarily beautiful. To pass the time and amuse themselves, those in heaven commit small acts of benevolent mischief, like causing Buckley’s garden to come up all at once one year. Knowing that Abigail had stayed and once again often found herself staring out at the yard, Susie gave her the gift of something to marvel at. Susie’s parents eventually give her possessions, along with Grandma Lynn’s, to Goodwill. They don’t let go of Susie entirely, and continue to share with one another the moments in which they think of or “feel” Susie.
Heaven is not perfect, or at least not the part of heaven where Susie still lingers. Susie’s experience of heaven as described by Alice Sebold defies many of the commonly-held cultural or religious expectations of the afterlife, and renders it a place where joy is just as common as boredom, and where desire still reigns. (In a way, it seems more like a kind of Purgatory.) As Susie’s family slowly begins to heal and move on, realizing that she belongs now only their memories, she too lessens her grip on trying to control or influence them and instead delights in the small ways she can communicate with them.
Ray becomes a doctor, and experiences more and more moments in which he chooses “not to disbelieve.” He knows deep down that he made love to Susie, and even in the black-and-white world of science and surgery, Ray hangs onto this truth. If he ever finds himself doubting it, he calls Ruth, who still lives in New York City, and is still trying to find a way to write down and communicate what she experienced when she went to heaven. She wants everyone to believe what she already knows: that the dead are in the air all around, and are the oxygen people breathe.
Ray and Ruth have been isolated from much of the rest of the world by the earth-shattering experience they shared, but have found connection and community in one another. Ruth is attempting to fulfill the destiny thrust upon her when Susie first passed her by on the way up to heaven all those years ago, knowing now that justice for the dead can be secured in many different ways.
One afternoon, scanning the earth alongside her grandfather, Susie’s view ends up at a diner her grandfather remembers from his days as a traveling businessman. Just as Susie is about to turn away from looking down on the diner, she sees Mr. Harvey coming out of the doors of a Greyhound bus in the parking lot. Mr. Harvey goes in and orders a coffee. A teenage girl walks into the diner—Mr. Harvey recognizes her from the bus. The girl goes into the bathroom, and when she comes out a few minutes later, Mr. Harvey follows her out of the diner. It is snowing, and there is a drop-off to a ravine below directly on the side of the diner. Susie watches as Mr. Harvey, following the girl, “calculate[s] his business in his mind.”
Susie no longer watches Mr. Harvey out of a morbid desire to see what he is up to, and in that way deepen her own sense of injustice, sadness, pain, and anger. She stumbles upon him by accident, however, in this passage, and is concerned to find that he is still up to his old patterns—pursuing his dark desires and calculating and constructing scenarios in which he can claim victims. Susie knows at this point that she cannot influence events on Earth the way she once thought she could, and experiences anxiety and curiosity combined as she looks down on Harvey and the latest woman on whom he has set his sights.
Mr. Harvey attempts to engage the girl in a conversation, but she rebuffs him. He persists, but she calls him a creep and walks away. As she does, an icicle hanging off the edge of the diner falls and hits Mr. Harvey—he is thrown off-balance, and stumbles forward into the ravine. Susie explains that it will be weeks before the snow at the bottom of the ravine melts enough to expose his corpse.
In this passage, Harvey is the recipient, at long last, of a kind of cosmic justice. Due to Susie’s earlier admission that during games of “How To Commit The Perfect Murder” she always chose an icicle, there is the implication that she did, in fact, cause Harvey’s death, at last influencing physical events on Earth in a culmination of her desire to participate in the world she left behind, but Sebold intentionally leaves the truth unclear and thus up to the reader.
Susie describes watching Lindsey build a garden outside her and Samuel’s new home. She works in the garden every day, decompressing and thinking about her patients. Susie follows her sister’s thoughts as Lindsey thinks fondly of gardening with Susie in their childhood, and of Holiday, their dog, and of how in a few years it will be time to get her own child a dog to play with. Samuel joins Lindsey in the garden—he has their daughter, named Abigail Suzanne, in his arms. As Samuel sets up a picnic blanket for the baby to play on, Lindsey leaves Susie behind in her own memories, where she is “meant to be.”
Susie struggled for so long to keep her family from forgetting her, and worried so deeply that she would be forgotten. She now understands that she will never be left behind by those who loved her on Earth—but that neither does she need to be the sole focus of their worlds. Life goes on, and in this passage, Susie actually rejoices in the unstoppable forward march of time, grateful for how it has helped her family to heal and grow in new ways around the void of her loss.
In a small house, five miles away, a man holds out Susie’s mud-covered charm bracelet to his wife. He explains that he found it at an old industrial park—it is being bulldozed, for fear of more sinkholes opening up. The man touches each of the charms on the bracelet, and his wife remarks aloud that the little girl who once owned it must be “grown up by now.” Susie interjects: “Almost,” she says. “Not quite.” She wishes her readers a long and happy life.
In one final scene, Susie observes a man and a woman finding one of her most treasured objects in life and reflecting on what the fate of its onetime owner could be. As they speculate that she must be all grown up, Susie speaks up to reflect on the unique conundrum of her afterlife: she will never be grown up, as she is in a way frozen in time; nonetheless, she is still learning, growing, and changing.