Two stone sepulchers filled the marble room. One unopened rose leaned wearily in its vase, semi-hidden in an alcove. The wealthy couple were well known residents around town at the turn of the century, but now, no one would know about them at all if it weren’t for their mysterious tomb–open only once a year.
A small sign, tastefully posted by the facility’s administrators, told us the tomb was evidence of a love story that left no heirs. We gathered our own clues from the engraving on the stone lids. He was B.P.O.E.—an Elk. She lived long after he’d diied. We had to leave the marble room imagining the rest of their story.
This is the largest mausoleum west of the Mississippi. We wandered 8 stories through the labyrinth of niches and crypts. And then I saw a scene that made my feet stop.
From an overlook, I could see down a semi-dark hallway. The facades of the crypts weren’t the usual marble or granite, instead they were dull gray—painted fiberglass. It was part of the scarcity of WWII. In the ’50s these hallways had been brightly lit, but as sections were added to the mausoleum, skylights and windows moved farther away, leaving the ornate lamps shadowing the room like a night light.
The hallway was empty except for an elderly lady. She sat alone on a bench in the center of the hall. Silhouetted by the half-light, I saw she held her face in her hands and stared up at a crypt. I watched for several heartbeats until the overwhelming feeling that I was intruding made my feet walk on, yet my heart remained with her image.
We walked by thousands of final resting places. They ranged from ornate and grand to a small pair of hands holding a tiny angel. Many were adorned with flowers. Some had cards and hand-drawn pictures by grandkids taped to the facades. Someone even left a box of chocolates at a niche.
But the image of the lady in the darkened hallway has stayed with me and I’ve come to the conclusion: It’s the memories we have that give us joy. Comfort us. Give us a sense of continuity. And knowing that someday, we’ll pass on and there’ll be no one to remember us anymore, it still gives us hope.
We’ll take our place among the saints who went before us, letting other folks have a turn at making this journey, leaving them to imagine our stories—perhaps just one special day each year.