Behind the Gravestones Part 2
Memories of Growing Up on a Cemetery
by Erin Darst Hein
My first childhood home was situated on the grounds of a cemetery. The most profound differences
that this unusual situation created came largely during the holidays.
During the holidays, the pace picks up in a funeral industry family. Often terminally ill patients hold on
until just after a significant holiday, which increases first calls and services during that week. More
significantly, holidays are particularly difficult times for the bereaved, so we could always expect many
more visitors. In fact, more than one of our Thanksgiving dinners included guests who were visiting the
cemetery that day.
Christmas is even busier and the flood of visitors meant that we crossed paths with so many incredible
people and heard so many beautiful stories. My mom likes to share the story of one Christmas when I
was almost three and my sister about one and a half, we woke to find Santa had delivered an elaborate
two-story doll house made especially for two little girls to stand side by side to play. Although we didn’t
know until we were much older, this surprise was a special gift from a man who never had the chance to
build his own little girls a doll house.
Throughout the year, we expect Dad to be pulled away at a moment’s notice when he receives a ‘first
call’ to assist a grieving family. The call might come from a hospital, a medical examiner, from the family
home or even a family friend in the moments immediately following a loss. Those first devastating
hours can be completely overwhelming to a family and my Dad guides them through those immediate,
necessary decisions when their world is still upside down. Holidays like New Year’s Eve that are
characterized by drinking meant that Dad’s ‘first calls’ were numerous and usually related to drunk
driver accidents. As a result, Dad’s strict rules for us about driving on those nights have stuck with me
even into adulthood.
When Easter rolls around, a cemetery is an amazingly peaceful and lovely place for a picnic, and as you
can imagine, a spectacular place for little ones to hunt for Easter eggs. My parents began this tradition
when we were very young, traveling to a historic cemetery in ‘blue bonnet country’ to celebrate the day.
We would picnic under the oaks, play among the flowers and hide eggs behind the gravestones. So,
once again, the unusual became the norm for my family. To this day, we continue the tradition, as my
husband and I take our children to that lovely old cemetery to celebrate Easter. It remains one of my
Halloween was particularly scary for us but not for the reasons you might imagine. Halloween means
trouble for cemetery owners. Both my Dad and my Grandpa owned cemeteries and I remember them
hiring extra security to guard against pranksters and n’er-do-wells. I think most of the time it was
harmless kids looking for a rush, but sometimes they had more malicious intentions. I distinctly
remember some gravestones knocked over or smashed, stories of attempted séances, and even the rare
small animal sacrifice. It’s odd to think that on a night when most kids are worried about supernatural
evils, the kids with gravestones outside of their bedroom windows are only worried about human evils.
As you can see, my holiday perspective is greatly influenced by growing up in a cemetery family. Maybe
not the usual or even the chosen place to raise a family, but for me it was the perfect childhood. I have a
greater respect for the suffering of others and the empathy it requires to do the job my dad does every
In the coming months, my family and I are excited to let you in on what it was (and is) like in our
world by sharing memories and experiences in these articles. We would love to address your specific
questions, so if you are curious about something in particular, please feel free to email me at
Erin Hein is the daughter of John Darst of Darst Funeral Home. She lives in Kingwood with her
husband, Evan and their two children, Jack and Caroline. At Darst Funeral Home, we are always here
in your time of need. You can reach us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 281-312-5656.
This story was originally published in the November 2014 Issue of Kingwood Dock Line Magazine. To download the issue in its entirety, click here.
You can read the other installments of this story here:
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 DyingPart 17: Grieving and Pets: A Family Affair