The next morning, Ray is awoken by the smell of his mother baking downstairs. He and Ruth are in his childhood bed together. After leaving the bike shop the previous evening, they returned to the Singhs’ and fell asleep. Ruana checked on them in the middle of the night and saw them sleeping together, entwined but fully clothed. Around three in the morning, Ray woke up, and sat looking with warmth and love at Ruth’s body. He went over to Ruth’s bag and lifted her notebook out it. He read her poetry and her accounts of murdered women. Some time later, Ruth sat up, and excitedly told Ray that she had “so much to tell [him.]”
Ruth and Ray are forever changed by the experience they have shared. They sleep entwined but clothed, demonstrating the combination of sexual and platonic love that has always defined their relationship and now binds them to each other in a new way. Neither of them will ever be able to fully communicate what transpired between them—or what they experienced separately from one another—but as they were in their youth, they remain connected by their mutual obsession with the potential of the afterlife and the role of desire in blurring the bounds of Earth and heaven, more strongly now than ever.
At the hospital, a nurse helps Jack into a wheelchair—it is time for him to go home. Buckley, Lindsey, and Abigail ride down in the elevator with him, and when the doors open on the lobby, Susie knows that the four of them are “meant to be there together, alone.”
Susie no longer watches her family with envy, needing to be the center of their worlds—she is happy that they are managing to move past their grief and distrust and reconnect with one another, making a new life without Susie in it.
In her kitchen, Ruana considers divorce. Something about the “crumbling, clinging postures” Ruth and Ray adopted together in sleep has forced her to try and remember the last time she and her husband went to bed at the same time or had a real conversation. Ray and Ruth come downstairs for breakfast, and Ruana hands them each a mug of coffee. She asks for their help in delivering a pie to the Salmon family, but Ray tells her that the two of them are still tired after having a “pretty intense day” yesterday. Ruth announces that she has somewhere to go, but promises to come back later.
Ruana, who has always been aloof and independent, now sees that her own child has managed to form a bond so unique and so profound that it causes her to want to better her own circumstances, and pursue her own romantic, intellectual, and emotional desires.
Hal buys Buckley a drum set, and it is waiting for him when the Salmons all return from the hospital. Susie senses that during the forty-eight hours her mother sat by Jack’s side, the world has changed—but she notes that it will change again and again, endlessly, over the years. Grandma Lynn offers to make everybody drinks while Hal teaches Buckley the drums. As Lynn places ice cubes in several tall glasses, she looks out the window, and swears she can see a little girl wearing “the clothes of her youth” in the yard. The next moment, though, the girl is gone.
Susie now understands that change is inevitable, and that it is not really a bad thing. She knows that it is the right thing for her family to move on—the patterns of grief, longing, and clinging to Susie’s memory that they adopted in earlier years have kept them from healing together, and now they finally have the chance to start anew. Meanwhile, Lynn becomes yet another character to glimpse a break in the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
As the Salmons unpack the car, Lindsey asks her mother if she is going to hurt Jack again. Abigail assures her that she is going to do “everything she can not to,” but does not make any promises this time. Lindsey reveals that she knows what Abigail did, and then the two of them go inside to watch Buckley play his new drums.
Abigail has learned from her mistakes and now knows what she needs to do to be a good wife and mother. She cannot entrap herself in grief or longing again, and must simultaneously face the mistakes of her past while finding a way to keep from repeating them.
Abigail goes upstairs to Susie’s old room. She whispers “I love you, Susie” into the empty room, and though Susie has heard the words countless times from her father, she is shocked to find that she has been waiting for years to hear them from her mother. Abigail, Susie knows, has finally realized that persisting in her love for her dead daughter will not destroy her. Abigail notices a photograph on the dresser, and takes a closer look—it is the picture Susie took of her that quiet morning. As she watches her mother, Susie realizes that she is finally “done yearning” for her family and needing them to yearn for her. Despite this, she knows that she still will, and that they still will, always.
As the Salmons reach a place of healing, perspective, and acceptance, so too does Susie. It is as if watching her family achieve closure and peace—and realize that their grief does not have to envelop them or break them—helps her see that her own grief and longing do not have to be the cornerstones of her afterlife. Even though Susie and her family simultaneously achieve these emotional and intellectual breakthroughs, Susie knows that none of them will be able to help themselves from missing or thinking of one another—and that is okay, too.
Abigail rejoins her family downstairs. Samuel has an announcement to make. He raises a glass of champagne in a toast, and says how grateful he is to have Abigail and Jack back home, and how honored he is to be marrying Lindsey. As Susie watches her family rejoice in one another’s love and company, she considers “the lovely bones” that have grown around her absence. She begins to see things in a way that lets her appreciate the world, even though she is not in it.
Here the novel’s title is revealed to refer to the “bones” of a new life—the healed fractures, new structures, and strong frameworks of all Susie’s family has endured. She knows that their growth and happiness has cost them a lot, but also knows that her death, and her loss, allowed them to confront their darkest demons and emerge stronger and better than they were before.
Hal spots someone through the blinds, and announces that Ray Singh is on the porch. Hal opens the door and calls for Ray, who is already on his way down the porch steps—his mother is waiting in the car. Abigail walks down the driveway and leans into Ruana’s car window to say hello to her. Ruana asks if Abigail will join her to smoke cigarettes once again, and Abigail tells her it’s a date. Then Ray and Ruana join the Salmons in the living room. Susie realizes that no one in the room will know when she is gone, just as they cannot know how heavily she hovers over them right now. Susie looks out to the cornfield and sees Ruth there, alone—a woman haunted, but by choice now. Susie knows that the story of her own life and death are Ruth’s to tell, if she chooses to.
In this passage, Susie and Ruth are once again connected by their loneliness and isolation. As the rest of their extended family and friends gather to celebrate Jack’s recovery and Lindsey and Samuel’s engagement, Ruth chooses to remain alone in the cornfield, while Susie considers departing the room, since no one even knows she’s there. They are both “haunted,” and Susie considers the role that choice plays in their respective isolations versus the role fate has played.
During Ray and Ruana’s visit, Samuel mentions the Gothic Revival house on the side of the road that he and Lindsey are dreaming of refurbishing. Ray asks if the house has a big hole in the ceiling, and when Samuel says it does, Ray tells him that Ruth’s father owns it—he has bought up old places around the neighborhood and wants to restore them. Samuel marvels at the coincidence. Susie leaves the living room.
This moment of apparent destiny, so close to the novel’s conclusion, foreshadows a change in the fate of the Salmon family and inspires a collective marveling at the odd ways in which fate, chance, and happy accidents have shined down upon them even in the face of unbelievable grief. Knowing that her family will be just fine without her, Susie departs, taking leave of her post as their eternal watchman.