Behind the Gravestones
Memories of Growing Up on a Cemetery: Part 1
by Erin Darst Hein
"Girls, there's a funeral starting in this section soon. You'll need to head up to play closer to the house," my father called. Reluctantly, my sisters and I emerged from our hiding places behind the gravestones. We obediently abandoned our game of hide-and-seek and raced playfully up the path towards our home, which just so happened to be situated on the grounds of a cemetery. We were having such fun careening after each other that we only noticed the visitors just in time. A young mother sat near a small gravestone placing pink silk flowers at its base. Beside her, peeking out at us, was a boy my age. We immediately calmed and walked by respectfully, breaking back into a run only after we turned the corner to cross the wooden bridge leading to our back door.
Only our living room wall separated my early childhood home from the main cemetery office. My mother nailed the only adjoining door closed and made a book shelf on our side to give our family some sense of separation, and at least in theory, some privacy. Still, our proximity lead to constant interaction with the visitors to our cemetery. Because our family members were the only ones left on the cemetery at night, it was very common to have guests knock on our door at all hours asking to be shown to a grave of a loved one. On holidays, people naturally feel closer to their lost loved ones and the interruptions are more frequent. It probably never occurred to anyone that their “just this once” request was so common, but Dad never turned them away or complained (even if it was the second interruption of Christmas dinner.)
On this day, Dad brought the young mother and her son to our door and invited us to play with the boy while he visited with the mother. And so it went… My earliest memories are of life on our cemetery, the people we touched and those who touched us.
This young mother had lost an infant and she came every single day to visit her daughter’s grave. We played with her son Carlo when he accompanied her, and soon our families became close. I was five when I met Carlo and I looked forward to his daily visits ‘to see me’. In fact, it wasn’t until I was much older that I put together the actual circumstances that brought him to visit us so often.
That’s typical of my early cemetery memories. My dad puts so much love and respect into his work with the bereaved that his business was an easy and natural-feeling extension of our daily life. We lived surrounded by a beautiful country park with huge Live Oak trees, a quaint gazebo, neatly manicured lawns bordering an enormous pecan orchard, a peaceful pond and gravel paths winding through gently rolling grass. This setting provided limitless possibilities for my sisters and I to imagine and explore. Contrary to what we thought, the careful manicuring and landscaping of our 'yard' was not intended for my siblings and me. First and foremost, our playground belonged to those whose final resting place was below our bare feet, and to all of those left behind who came to visit and remember their loved ones. Our yard, our home, and our time belonged to the bereaved. And the bereaved became our friends.
As you can imagine, growing up behind the scenes of the cemetery and funeral industry made for a very colorful childhood. 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 email@example.com.
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.
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 Dying
Part 17: Grieving and Pets: A Family Affair
This story was originally published in the October 2014 Issue of Kingwood Dock Line Magazine. To view the Dock Line issue in its entirety, click here.