A Day’s Work: Funeral Director

(Photo by Polly McCravey)

(Photo by Polly McCravey)

Eric Wilsey is 28 years old. He is a lifetime resident of Saugerties. He is the fourth generation of family funeral directors at Seamon-Wilsey Funeral Home in Saugerties.

How did you come to be involved in the funeral business?

I became involved in the family business at a very young age beginning with small jobs like washing cars, vacuuming and lawn mowing. Sometimes I would help set up chairs or place flower arrangements; various tasks to get ready for a family to come in for arrangements, visitation or a funeral service. While doing this I was always aware of the emotions family members had when they first came in to make the arrangements with either my dad or my grandfather. I would quietly wait for them to go upstairs before continuing on with my small jobs. Of course they were emotional at that time having just experienced the loss of a loved one, but it was more than that; they didn’t know what to do next, or how they were going to make it through this difficult time. Those same families would come back a week or two later to pick up death certificates or photos and I would notice the conversations they were having with my dad or grandfather thanking them for the service they provided during one of the most sorrowful points in their lives. I remember becoming interested in that at a young age.


What kind or training did you have prior to becoming a funeral director?

As I entered Saugerties High School I started to look into funeral service more seriously. There were a few options for colleges that offered the funeral service degree and I applied for them. SUNY Canton offered a college atmosphere with many different majors for all types of students, which drew me to that campus rather than others that were only set up for funeral service. The required courses were mostly science-based; anatomy, pathology, sociology and embalming. The program also required business courses such as accounting, business economics and management. I pursued the business end of the program at SUNY Oneonta, completing my bachelor’s degree in 2007. Once I earned the degree I needed to complete a one-year residency with a qualified funeral home, recording and reporting my weekly tasks to the New York State Health Department. Finally I was eligible to register for the National Funeral Directing Boards Certification and the New York State Funeral Service Law Exam. In 2008 I became a licensed New York State funeral director.

Describe an average day of work, obviously in this case a day when there is a funeral taking place:

When a loved one passes, our planned day is put on hold and we respond to the death quickly, day or night, for the dignity of the deceased and their family. Usually we would be going to a hospital or nursing home, but also at times into a family’s home if they were under a family member’s care or hospice. At that point an arrangement conference would be set up for the family to come into the funeral home and go over service options for their loved one. Visitation and service times would be set up and the newspaper notice would be formulated announcing the times for friends to offer condolences and to say goodbye. We then contact the clergyman, cemetery or crematory personnel, casket and vault distributors and honor guard if it is a veteran. The necessary preparations are made for the viewing of the deceased. Dressing, casketing and new advanced cosmetic techniques would be used to achieve a natural presentation. We also obtain the permit needed to allow the burial or cremation in the jurisdiction where the death occurred. Usually an afternoon and evening visitation would be set up with the funeral service on the following morning. Following the service we then go to the cemetery for burial or the crematory for cremation. Typically we would return to the funeral home in the early afternoon to turn the chapel back for visitations, wash vehicles and start on completing paperwork on the deceased.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of funeral service goes back to the reasons I became involved in the family business. After you have met with, or talked on the phone with a family that has lost a loved one, they have many emotions and thoughts running through their minds. I want to console and guide them along the grieving path and help them to create a positive lasting picture of their loved one. I am able to help them say goodbye and accept the death. The most rewarding part is after the service and after a few days pass when the family meets with you and tells you how much they appreciate the service you’ve provided.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

The most challenging part of funeral service is dealing with close family friends or relatives that have passed. We deal with the situation every day but when it hits home we, just like anyone else, have an emotional tie to the deceased and their family. The community of Saugerties has also experienced too many tragic accidents involving younger people and that, by far, is the hardest part of funeral service.

What is your most memorable experience?

I would say it was my grandfather’s funeral service. On the night of his wake each one of his seven children and 13 grandchildren stood and shared their greatest memory of the him. He had a special relationship with each one of us and that was apparent in the stories shared at his visitation that night. The lasting peaceful picture I have of him will stay with me forever.

What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about what you do?

I think people don’t understand what we do is not for the deceased but for the living. We have faith and believe there is a better place to move on to when our time comes, but it’s the remaining family and close friends that need to grieve and say goodbye. Honoring the loved one and their wishes is very important, but we also want to make sure that it is the right choice for the family who will emotionally feel the loss. The funeral home is where the grieving process begins. Each part of the service is meaningful and symbolic. All the way down to placing that last rose on the casket. All of these small meaningful traditions should not be overlooked; they are all part of a tribute to a life well-lived and a life celebrated.