The main characters are:
Miriam Unger, born a conjoined twin twenty-seven years ago. At age six when the twins were separated, her twin Katie died, as did their shared leg below the knee. Miriam, with one leg in life and one in death, continues talking to Katie after she died. These conversations become a bridge between here and hereafter. Based on the information Miriam learns from Katie, she founds a school in San Francisco called the Katie Unger School for Death Midwifery (KUSDM) which teaches that birth and death are parallel processes, and that dying people and their families need midwives just as pregnant women do. To Miriam this is not a religion but what Katie witnesses and reports to her.
Lucy Schmidt is referred to Miriam for grief counseling after her father dies suddenly. She is a writer and philosopher who lives in Berkeley with her boyfriend Ron who was born in Cuba and has a jealous streak.
Mr. Ng, a Vietnamese man who came to the US at the end of the Vietnam war after his wife and child were killled. He rents space to the school; and
David, Mr. Ng’s attorney who becomes a good friend of Miriam’s.
Students at KUSDM:
Joe Manly Black, an African-American Vietnam vet and paramedic who went to medical school but never completed his internships. He is in his second year at KUSDM.
Rati from India who has an arranged marriage and becomes pregnant during her second year in school. She is a friend of Lucy’s and one of Miriam’s favorite students. Miriam considered her as a partner in the school.