Darst Funeral Home

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

favorite traditions.


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
art 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