The next person you meet in heaven by Mitch Albom
Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9780751571899
(Senior secondary - Adult) Deeply evocative of the anguish we experience when someone we love dies, this story is constructed as both a reflection on life and a conversation with those who have died. Mitch Albom tells the story of one woman, Annie, who is killed in a freak accident, taking us through her life and the five lessons that she experiences when she 'meets' five people who were part of her life on earth.
Definitely unusual and slightly difficult to comprehend at the start of the novel, this is not so much a story as a treatise on love, care, generosity, decency and the values that we often overlook in our busy lives. As Albom delves deeply into the reality of our tendency to feel guilty when someone dies, so we begin to understand that what is more relevant to our living on this earth is to connect, to feel, to think about and to cherish those with whom we live and those with whom we come into contact. Essentially this book is about that idea of really connecting with others that enables us and offers a renewed spirit in ourselves and in those with whom we spend time, even if it is only a passing meeting or a short time.
Underlying the narrative is the feeling of guilt that pursues the soul of those whose actions have caused the death of others, be it strangers or loved family members. Moving between this temporal life and that one he proposes as the spiritual life of heaven, Albom positions us to see accidents from the survivor's point of view as well as that of the ones who died. At its heart is that notion of the incredible capacity of people to forgive others, and he proposes that those who cannot forgive themselves suffer enormously. Hence we are led to see the ending of a life and Albom's proposition of the idea of 'heaven' as a simple concept. He writes of the value and quality of what we offer others as intensely precious. Indeed, his proposition is that the soothing balm of loving forgiveness heals the pain of those who have hurt others.
Whether or not his afterlife reflects a possible life after death, this little story posits the notion of loving kindness when fate causes death. It proposes a connection between this world and another, the 'afterlife', and this author asserts the inestimable value of forgiveness as an act of goodness that has the capacity to heal even the most damaged soul.