From Velvet to Violets: Shedding New Light on Saying Goodbye
By Erin Hein
What is the first word (or words) that pops into your head when you hear “funeral home”? I
I asked dozens of people that question this week. About half of the answers were, predictably, about death (Sadness, Grief, Goodbye, Finality, Crying, Casket). The other, more colorful half, could be better classified as perceptions (or memories) about the atmosphere of a funeral home itself (Formal, Stuffy, Maroon Carpet, Gold in the bathroom, Velvet Drapes, Unnatural Silence, Awkwardness, Pimento Cheese Sandwiches). As someone who has grown up behind the scenes in the industry, I can absolutely relate to every single answer, but they also make me cringe. That’s not the story I want for you.
Six years ago, my family was on a cruise. My Dad was on fire about his ideas for a funeral home of our own. He was dreaming up a place where families come “not just to grieve, but to heal.” There would beabsolutely no velvet drapes and gilded toilets allowed. The thing was, this place that he had picked out to turn into a a funeral home was a teeny condemned shack of a house with a chain link fence and a totally barren yard. His enthusiasm was contagious, but his vision was hard to follow. At an art auction on the cruise, he bought some paintings for this mythical healing place. They were Thomas Kinkade paintings (that are still here in the funeral home, by the way) of elaborate gardens and winding paths and light breaking through clouds. He told me he was drawn to them not only for the content, but because Thomas Kinkade was called ‘The Painter of Light’. (Again – A nice sentiment and I’m trying to follow you here, Dad, but I’m pretty sure you’re crazy.)
He told me that he had to build a place where every member of a family felt welcomed. If you are old enough to love, he said, then you are old enough to grieve. So he was adament that children would have a place to run, and process, and just be children. When you’re five, healing does not begin while sitting on a hard pew in tight patent leather shoes, trying to be quiet (and as a mother of 3 kids under 6, I’ll add that healing also does not begin while trying to keep said 5 year old on said pew). He wasn’t sure how he was going to achieve all of that, exactly, but he knew that It.Would.Happen.
When we got home he started renovations on his shack, but it was obvious that space was going to be an issue. He and my gardening genius of a mother-in-law teamed up and mapped out a garden space to allow people to spill out of the funeral home. It started coming toogether, and kept coming together and we all watched in amazement as his shack turned into a welcoming and cozy building and the garden became the life of his dream. People began to contribute plants and fountains in memory of loved ones. He added winding paths, porch swings, a beautiful gazebo. He wired the whole garden for light and sound so that services can either be totally outdoors or so that people who feel more comfortable getting out of the service and sitting under the sky can have some room to breathe while still seeing and hearing the service going on inside. This month, a new chapel is going in. It opens right onto the garden and continues the feel of light and air and space to breathe.
Ya’ll – he did it. My dad, the Willy Wonka of funeral homes, has somehow pulled it off. And I want you to come see. It’s shady and breezy. It’s full of flowers and butterflies and the sound of water. It’s welcoming and peaceful and most of all, just like he promised, it’s healing. It’s the best place to come to work that I can imagine. We’ve had 2 weddings and 2 baby showers and more than a few birthday parties here. It’s just that different.
So it turns out that you don’t have to be stuffy to be respectful. You don’t have to be silent or awkward to be attentive and present. You can find peace and healing in GoodBye.
Erin Hein is the daughter of John Darst of Darst Funeral Home. She lives in Kingwood with her husband Evan and their 3 children Jack (5), Caroline (3), and Ian (1).
Darst Funeral Home is located at 796 Russell Palmer Road. You can reach us at 281-312-5656, and you can reach Erin at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in Dockline Magazine in October 2016.
Read more in the series:
Part 1: Earliest Memories
Part 2: Holidays on a cemetery
Part 3: This Little Light of Mine
Part 4: Genealogy
Part 5: The Man Behind The Magic
Part 6: No Cancer But a Dose of Perpective
Part 7: A Year Full of Yes
Part 8: Last Moments and First Steps
Part 9: Facing Fathers Day Without Your Father
Part 10: When Children Grieve
Part 11: From Velvet to Violets: Shedding New Light on Saying Goodbye
Part 12: If it Won't Open, It's Not Your Door
Part 13: Love, After All
Part 14: New Beginnings
Part 15: Not Goodbye, Just Goodnight
Part 16: Holding Space for Dying
Part 17: Grieving and Pets: A Family Affair