Young Professional Spotlight: Eric Cahill

Eric S. Cahill is a 40-year-old licensed funeral director and embalmer at Veterans Funeral Care in Clearwater, Florida.

Eric S. CahillHow many years have you worked in funeral service?

I’ve worked in the funeral industry for 9 years as of April 2021. Started in April 2012 at Memorial Park Funeral Home & Cemetery as a pre-need counselor. Having had two insurance licenses for about 10 years, I was hired on to do pre-planning while I was in mortuary school. It was a double dose of learn and a smaller dosage of earn (at first).

Why did you begin working in funeral service?

My start in funeral services has a long-reaching backstory. Years and years ago when I was just 10 or 11 years old, my parents were volunteer  firefighters in Dutchess County, New York. Mom went down a more comprehensive path of getting her EMT certification and along with that came lots of medical books for her studies. I was fascinated with all the pictures inside and the anatomical diagrams of vessels, organ systems and schematics of what’s where inside our bodies. That sparked an interest in emergency medicine, because come on, what kid doesn’t love fire trucks, ambulances, lights and sirens?

Down the road in my early 20s my mind adjusted its focus toward cemeteries, death and funerals. How does all THAT work? I got my first insurance license in 2005 and began selling life insurance. Day after day I was talking to people about being financially prepared for when they die. More and more I was hearing about how much funerals cost and cemeteries cost. So along with that, my curiosity continued to build and then my father died.

On June 21, 2010, my father Dennis M. Cahill took his last breath at the VA Hospital in Tampa following a two-year battle with lung cancer. So now it’s up to me and my aunt (Dad’s sister) to do arrangements for him without any pre-arrangement and without any money set aside. In summary, my aunt took the lead. The direct disposer (never knew what that meant before) gave a level of “service” that earns a string of negative adjectives I’ll omit for right now. He is buried in a polished cultured marble urn at St. Joachim’s Cemetery in Beacon, New York, up on the hill in the military section. There is a picture of my dad’s headstone at my desk to remind me every day to do better for everyone else than was done for my dad.

Started mortuary school at St. Petersburg College in 2012. Finished fast-track and graduated in 2014 as FD/E Intern. I’d been at my other funeral home and cemetery for two years as a sales counselor. When I got my intern license, I went across the hall into the funeral directors’ office, which was shared by three of us. Then the doors really started opening for me to be creative with funeral planning and funeral services, seeing different cemeteries and being in the prep room more often. Embalm, embalm, embalm as much as possible and fast-forward to December 2018 when I joined the team at Veterans Funeral Care.

Eric S. Cahill presents a flag

What is the most rewarding part of your occupation?

The most rewarding part of this profession has several branches for me. First, bringing someone into the prep room, opening up their transport pouch and seeing them at their very, very worst motivates me to do the very best work for them and their family. Secondly, knowing that I can do all that needs to be done on the funeral planning and services side to earn the family’s trust and thanks when we part ways. When someone looks you in the eyes, tears flowing, and says, “Thank you for what you’ve done for my mom,” THAT’s powerful.

What are your professional goals?

I look down the road of ownership or education/consulting. Being up front keeps me feeling alive but I love to be embalming so much, too, which is private and solitary.

Now having broken 40 years old, professional education is important and moving that knowledge ‘downstream’ to other, newer funeral directors is a motivator. We all know how much work this business really is, so it’ll likely be a while. Perhaps one day, I’ll be on the other side (owner) and have an enterprise with talented people to build and build the very best in funeral/memorial services. Maybe, one day, I can set a tee time for somewhere around 0930 on a Thursday or perhaps do a brewery tour on Friday at noon.... Is that how owners get to do it?

What are you proud of that you have achieved so far during your career in funeral service?

I am proud of how far my career has developed in a somewhat short amount of time. You hear me mention “We have a finite amount of time” and “We can’t get back any, not one second, of time that’s passed.” I’ve gone from pre-need counselor at a combo facility to funeral director intern, embalming intern/trainee, funeral director, General Manager at a combo facility (200-call funeral home and 40-acre cemetery), to pre-need sales specialist (3rd party contractor), to freelance funeral director and funeral director/embalmer at THE premier veterans-focused funeral care location in the country... with my eyes and heart on bigger & better for myself and the team. I’ve done funerals for everyone from an E-1 Army private up to a major general in the Air Force. That’s a little something to be proud of.

What are some important/notable trends that you have noticed in funeral service?

While it’s not news to anyone anymore, the cremation rate continues to rise and accelerate. That trend, for me, is important/notable because embalming is my very most favorite part of this profession. Embalming IS the reason that I got into this profession almost 10 years ago. The rate of traditional funerals with embalmed persons is going down opposite the rise in cremation (direct cremation, specifically) and many adjustments need to be made at the funeral home level. We handle it very well and are able to maximize experience for our clients despite the actual dollar amount they spend.

How do you spend your time outside of work? Is there anything in particular that you enjoy doing?

Time outside of work? What? Huh? Funeral professionals have that? Bring these people to me at once! I demand to know where from they’re getting “time” outside of work. Setting some kidding aside, when I’m not at VFC I love to cook and really do anything in the kitchen, watch funeral-related videos online, visit local breweries, go to restaurants with my mom who lives in Dunedin, be outside and enjoy NOT having to wear a suit while outdoors in the middle of the day.

Who or what inspires you?

There are a string of moments and experiences that are a snapshot of the passion for why I do this. Most of this/these come from embalming and prep. When you are able to take someone who is thin, gray, sunken-in, dehydrated, not looking anywhere near like they normally did and, with time, discipline, good training and some finesse, they look just like the picture... that’s the grand slam. Challenge accepted.

What do you value most about OGR?

I’ve been a member of OGR for 2 years. I first met Nancy Weil very shortly after starting here at Veterans Funeral Care. Her enthusiasm along with sharing with me that there are professional development offerings through OGR peaked my interest to dig deeper.

Coming from corporate-owned locations, being at an OGR network and independently owned location - what a BIG eye-opener. There really IS a different way of doing things for which nobody up the chain is going to question, argue, revise or disapprove. For lack of a better cliche, an OGR location really helped me to spread my wings, gain altitude and know there was a solid support system (great management team) if I was flying too close to the sun. Furthermore, the availability of other independently owned/managed locations from which to pull ideas, advice or perspective has impacted my experiences these last few years.

YPs at February 2020 baseball gameWhat is your favorite OGR memory?

The YP Summit event here in Clearwater/St. Pete back in February 2020. Between all the training, classes, group think, role-playing and business betterment segments, there were real moments of friendship and camaraderie that weekend. Dinners out, playing cornhole, staying up way too late down in the hotel restaurant and going to see a baseball game on a Chamber of Commerce caliber day really made for a three-day triple-play of great moments.

The organization as a whole tries to ‘follow the Golden Rule.’ What other words do you try to live by?

The Golden Rule has real power. Having more people pay attention to that out in the world would be greatly helpful for us all. Additional words to live by for me include: We have a finite and ever shrinking amount of time in this life. Do your best with the little less we have every day.

Being halfway through my life at this point, it’s important to dedicate every week that I have to doing something good for people. High-quality funeral care is my medium to make their days (people who’ve had a loss) a little brighter, and for me it’s a way to make my parents proud.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of The Independent. Click here to read the entire issue.

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