Riverview Abbey Mausoleum, a shrine to love and loss / by Beth Nakamura

Every day, Fred Kimberley, 87, makes the drive to Riverview Abbey mausoleum to check in  on his wife of 57 years. It's the same trip he's made more than 2,000 times before. 

"Two days ago, it was 5½ years," he said of Patricia Kimberley's death at age 78, pointing to the fresh bouquet of pink roses gracing the glistening  marble niche that holds her ashes. 

"What finally did it was the Alzheimer's. Her mind just ... " he pauses, searching for the  words, "... closed away." 

For Fred, the daily visits help fend off a loneliness he admits has plagued him since his wife's death. He brings fresh roses with him at least once a week.

"I miss her," he said. "She was a wonderful person, a beautiful lady, and I loved her.

"I still do love her."

Stepping inside the mausoleum, it's easy to forget that lying behind the mahogany trim and imported marble slabs are more entombed bodies than there are residents of Oregon City. More than 35,000 lives are represented here, 50 marble-lined corridors of them.  

The mausoleum, which turns 100 this year, is one of two in Portland. There's Wilhelm's, over in Sellwood, and Riverview, tucked away in hilly Southwest Portland -- hidden, you might say, in plain sight. 

"Some people have driven past the road here for 30 or 40 years and never stepped foot in here," said Robert Griffith, one of four brothers who operate the mausoleum, which has been in his family since 1918. 

The mausoleum holds more than 1,800 veterans, including one John O'Brien, an itinerant newspaperman and Civil War veteran who died in Forest Grove in 1931, according to one Civil War related website. 

One needn't be grief stricken to visit this shrine of love and loss, which offers free tours. 

The 16 foot-tall  corridors feature more than 30 stained glass windows and marble imported from seven countries. There's a room devoted entirely to dead children. There are handwritten cards, dangling from towering walls and written to loved ones who've been dead over half a century. There are flowers, mostly plastic, but some of them fresh, fragrant, alive. 

The cavernous structure – think of it as a cemetery, with benefits – has a crematorium, funeral home and a chapel, which hosts services of all faiths. 

"People grieve very differently," said Timothy Proctor, a funeral director and embalmer at the mausoleum.

"There's no right way to handle it."

Fred Kimberley visits every day. He's not the only one.

"Some people make weekly pilgrimages. And I am sure some people would come a lot more if they were more mobile," Proctor said.

On a recent Monday, Fred has been sitting for about a half-hour on a bench a few short feet from the niche that contains Patricia's ashes. There, he talks to her. The couple never had children. He tells her he loves her, tells her about his day. Small things, mostly. 

"I tell her that I'll be joining her there and that we'll be angels together. And we'll be together forever."

The daily vigils have allowed Kimberley to get to know the mausoleum workers and, under the unlikeliest of circumstances, friendships have formed. 

"I had 'em over for Thanksgiving two years ago," he said of mausoleum staffers James Stirling and Nick Kravchenko. "And Christmas." 

He's chatting with Stirling, who's crouched on the floor, leaning against a nearby wall. They're going back and forth about a golf game they both happened to catch on television the previous  day. The corridor is dimly lit;  the tones,  hushed. Behind them, beams of sunlight stream in from a set of glass doors several feet  in the distance. 

Tomorrow, Kimberley will  spend the day with Kravchenko, who works with Stirling in maintenance.

"Nick and I usually get together about once a week," Fred said.

They'll head out to Welches, where Fred owns some property, and take the same drive along the Salmon River that Fred and Patricia used to enjoy. Later, they'll stop for ice cream cones. 

Then, as he does every day, Fred will return to the mausoleum to visit Patricia. It's a routine that has given structure to the widower's life. 

"When I wake up every morning, I have something to look forward to," he said.

"She knows she's not alone when I'm there, and I like being with her, to give her comfort. It's comforting for both of us." 

-- Beth Nakamura