Holidays and Cemeteries

As I write this, Halloween is in full swing. Across from me, my 6 year old is very carefully painting a rainbow sugar skull onto a pumpkin and a few feet away my 4 year old daughter is dancing around in her newly completed costume to peals of delight from the baby. Her class is studying Texas, and she was asked to come to school in a costume that represents what she loves about Texas. Is she a bluebonnet? Or an Aggie? Or a NASA astronaut? No. She picked Queso. Yep. My daughter is currently a dancing bowl of queso with blonde ringlets and she (and I) could not be more thrilled about it.

I have always been enraptured with holidays but there is just nothing like seeing them through the eyes of your children, sharing the things you loved about the holidays when you were small, and remembering the things your parents shared with you. Of course, my earliest experiences all had a unique twist because my first childhood home was situated on the grounds of a cemetery.

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, (a first call is, as you might surmise, the call we get immediately after a person passes), 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 huge influx 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. (To this day, it stands in my living room, now also treasured by a new generation.)

Then, New Year’s Eve rolls around and you can count on me, (still), to be the nervous one. Holidays 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 among the bluebonnets near Brenham. 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, and my children and their cousins love to visit the same places and hear the stories.

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.

Today, my kids are not as deep into the cemetery life as I was, but it still colors their experience. My dad has built Darst Funeral Home to feel more welcoming and open and natural than a traditional funeral home. We often have Thanksgiving dinner, birthday parties, and even my baby showers were in the gardens there. The kids swing in the porch swings and play in the fountains and we all enjoy introducing the 4th generation of Darsts to the beauty and peace that can, (and should), be a part of a place built for healing.

Come and see for yourself. Enjoy our garden and say hello to the littlest generation if they are visiting to picnic with Gramma and Grampa that day. We hope you will be pleasantly surprised and maybe even redefine ‘funeral home’ in your mind.

— Erin Darst Hein

Erin Hein is the daughter of John and Anne Darst of Darst Funeral Home. She lives in Kingwood with her husband, Evan and their three children, Jack (6), Caroline (4), and Ian (2).

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.