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Glossary of Terms

AARP
AfterCare
Anatomical Donation
At Need
Balloon Release
Burial Vault
CANA
Casket
Celebration of Life
Cemetery Lettering
Columbarium
Coffin
Cremated Remains
Cremation
Cremation Casket
Cremation Chamber
Cremation Container
Crematory or Crematorium
Cryonics
Crypt
Dirge
Dove Release
Embalmer
Embalming
Entombment
Epitaph
Estate
Estate Tax
Family Car
Funeral Director
Funeral Home
Funeral Service
Funeral Rule
Graveside/Committal Service
Head Stone
Hearse
ICCFA
Interment
Interment Right
Interment Space
Inurnment
Last Testament
Lawn Crypt
Mausoleum
Memento Urns
Memorial
Memorial Service
Military Funeral Honors
Monument
Mortician
Mortuary
Motorcycle Escort
Mummification
Neptune Society
NFDA
Niche
Obituary
OGR
Onsite Engraving
Opening and Closing of Grave
Organ Donation
Ossuary
Pallbearer
Plot
PreNeed
Retort
Scattering
Sea Burial
Social Security Death Benefit
State Room
Taps
Tissue Donations
Tombstone
Tribute
VA Death Benefits
VA Markers
Veterans Funeral
Video Tribute
Viewing Room
Undertaker
Urn
Viewing/Visitation or Wake
Will

AARP

Financial Planning/Retirement Information about financial issues facing retirees and end of life decisions. End of life resources deal with difficult decisions around death and dying. Topics include estate planning, hospice, palliative care, final wishes, and wills. For more information please visit www.aarp.org/families/end_life/.

After Care

After Care programs are established to meet the needs of families affected by a death of a loved one by providing support, education, and resources in a community context. Several funeral homes and cemeteries provide these services. Considered by some to be an altruistic extension of the at-need services provided.

Anatomical Donation

A: The act of contributing the organs or tissue of a recently deceased person to another person to improve their life such as lungs, kidneys, heart, liver, skin tissue, and bone marrow.

B: The act of contributing one’s body to “science” (i.e. contribution to a medical school to further the educational process for students or to be examined for sources, causes, and cures of diseases.)

At Need

A term referring to the time of death, when funeral arrangements are effected.

Balloon Release

At the end of the graveside, church or other committal service family and friends release balloons that ascend into the sky as a remembrance of the deceased.

Burial Vault

A rigid outer container that protects the casket from ground elements and immense weight after interment.

CANA

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) was founded in 1913 as an international organization of over 1500 members, composed of cemeterians, cremationist, funeral directors, industry consultants and suppliers. CANA members believe that cremation is preparation for memorialization. For more information please visit www.cremationassociation.org.

Casket

A metal or wood four-sided container designed to encase human remains, usually constructed of steel, stainless steel, copper, bronze or hardwood.

Celebration of Life

A: Celebration of Life is a reflection on the life of the dead rather than the death. Frequently stories are told by friends and family of events that bring back the essence of the deceased and the differences they made during their lifetime.
B: A way for people attending the funeral to show appreciation and gratitude for what the deceased may have done to enrich their life.

Cemetery Lettering

To add a name, date, verse or simple design to an existing memorial, by performing on-site work at the cemetery without removing the monument or marker from the cemetery.

Coffin

Six-sided container designed to encase a human remains, usually constructed of wood.

Columbarium

A structure made of concrete or granite with columns and rows of cubicles (niches) that are used to inter cremated remains in a receptacle for permanent memorialization. Typically, these columbaria are found in cemeteries or churches.

Cremated Remains

The remains of a dead human body after cremation and after processing comprised of ash and bone fragments; sometimes referred to as cremains.

Cremation

The reduction of human remains by intense heat and flame to basic bone fragments. (Usually about 5% of pre-cremation body weight)

Cremation Casket

Similar to a casket, however designed specifically for cremation, typically simpler in design and constructed mostly of combustible materials.

Cremation Chamber

The enclosed space within which the cremation process takes place. The oven itself is referred to as a retort.

Cremation Container

Designed to preserve the dignity of human remains prior to cremation and to assist with the placement of the remains into the crematory. It can be constructed of cardboard, flake board, wood or similar material.

Crematory or Crematorium

The building that houses the cremation chamber.

Cryonics

Cryonics is the practice of preserving dead human bodies under very low temperatures to halt the decay process.

Crypt

A space in a mausoleum of sufficient size used, or intended to be used, to entomb human remains.

Dirge

A: A funeral hymn or lament.
B: Mournful poem or musical composition.

Dove Release

At the end of the committal service family members and friends may release doves. The flock ascends into the sky and circles away. Moments later a single white dove representing the loved ones spirit is then released by a family member. The spirit dove joins the flock and together they make the spiritual flight home.

Embalmer

One who disinfects or preserves dead human bodies by the injection or external application of antiseptics, disinfectants or preservative fluids.

Embalming

The temporary preservation of the body for viewing and transportation.

Entombment

The placement of human remains in a crypt.

Epitaph

A: An inscription on or at a tomb or grave in memory of the one buried there.
B: A brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person or something past.

Estate

The assets, liabilities and net worth left by a person at death.

Estate Tax

A tax in the form of a percentage of the taxable estate that is imposed on a property owner's right to transfer the property to others after his or her death. Estates are typically taxed at both federal and state levels.

Family Car

A limousine used in the funeral procession set aside for the use of the close family and friends typically provided by the funeral director.

Funeral Director

Individual typically licensed by State Board of Funeral Directors to conduct funeral services.

Funeral Home

A generic name for a location where funeral services are held. The word funeral home came about in the early days when people held funerals and prepared bodies in their homes. See also Mortuary.

Funeral Service

A service held with the body present to commemorate the life of the deceased. Also called committal service.

Funeral Rule

The Federal Trade Commission established a funeral rule in 1984 requiring funerals to among other things publish a general price list for consumers to review and comparison shop. For more information please visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/rulemaking/funeral/.

Graveside/Committal Service

Formal committal services conducted at the cemetery typically with a tent, chairs for the family, and lowering device for the casket and vault. The graveside service is attended by family, friends, and clergy to commit the deceased.

Head Stone

A monument or memorial made of granite, marble, bronze, or other lasting materials to mark a grave.

Hearse (Funeral Coach)

Typically a luxury vehicle converted to a station wagon with specialized rollers and turn tables to facilitate the transportation of the casketed remains. Typically provided by the funeral director. The hearse typically leads the procession from the funeral home to the church and cemetery.

ICCFA

International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICFA) was founded in 1887 and is now composed of more than 6,000 cemeteries, funeral homes, memorial designers, crematories and related businesses worldwide. The primary goal of the ICFA is assist their members in meeting their business needs by offering a variety of benefits and services. For more information please visit www.iccfa.org.

Interment

The disposition of human remains by burial, entombment, or inurnment.

Interment Right

The particular right to inter the remains of a deceased person in a specific interment space within a cemetery, subject to the limitations set forth by the cemetery.

Interment Space

The particular grave, crypt, niche or lawn crypt with the cemetery to which a particular Interment Right relates. An owner of an Interment Right, does not, by virtue of such ownership, acquire ownership of the interment space or of any land or improvements within the cemetery.

Inurnment

The placement of cremated remains typically in an urn into a niche.

Last Testament

A document which provides the manner in which a person’s property will be distributed after death. It must meet certain formal requirements as provided by the laws of each state. Also see Will.

Lawn Crypt

Pre installed, below the ground concrete chambers, either single or double depth, covered by earth and sod.

Mausoleum

A public or private building especially designed to receive entombments of full caskets and human remains typically built with granite or marble shutters to be engraved with the personal information of the deceased. May be a community mausoleum or a family mausoleum.

Memento Urns

Miniature urns created for families wishing to memorialize their loved one with a personal remembrance. Each Memento Urn is designed to hold a small portion of cremated remains. Frequently cremated remains are placed in Memento urns and distributed among immediate family members.

Memorial

A monument, tombstone, grave marker, tablet or headstone identifying a grave or graves or a nameplate or inscription identifying a crypt or niche. It can also be a marker, garden bench, statue, etc., that is placed in a meaningful place.

Memorial Service

A service held without the body present to commemorate the life of the deceased.

Military Funeral Honors

Military Funeral Honors have always been provided whenever possible for deceased veterans. However, the law now mandates the rendering of Military Funeral Honors for an eligible veteran if requested by the family. As provided by law, an honor guard detail for the burial of an eligible veteran shall consist of not less than two members of the Armed Forces. One member of the detail shall be a representative of the parent Service of the deceased veteran. The honor detail will, at a minimum, perform a ceremony that includes the folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin and the playing of Taps. Taps will be played by a bugler, if available, or by electronic recording. Today, there are so few buglers available that the Military Services often cannot provide one.

Monument

Typically a piece of granite shaped into various forms which could be polished then sandblasted with the family name and the names of those buried in the plot along their dates of death and other information depending on the size of the stone. Frequently included are anniversary dates, names of children, favorite sayings, poems, or songs. See also Headstone.

Mortician

An undertaker.

Mortuary

A building built specifically for the purpose of conducting funerals and embalming dead human bodies. See also Funeral Home.

Motorcycle Escort

If the funeral procession is anticipated to be large, typically a funeral director will recommend the services of motorcycle escorts to halt traffic at intersections and to provide guidance so the processional chain is not broken from one point to another, driving to the church and cemetery. Typically provided by the funeral director from an outside service. Frequently comprised of off duty or retired policeman.

Mummification

The process of making one into a mummy by embalming and drying the deceased body. This process was started by ancient Egyptians to preserve and honor their dead rulers.

Neptune Society

The Neptune Society, Inc., and its predecessor companies, has been providing cremation services for more than 30 years. They have locations in 49 states. The Neptune Society primarily provides the cremation of the deceased, and also sea burials. For more information please visit www.neptunesociety.com.

NFDA

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) provides advocacy, education, information, products, programs and services to help members enhance the quality of service to families. NFDA members ( with more than 20,300 members) stand for credibility, ethics, excellence and trust. For more information please visit www.nfda.org.

Niche

An alcove like space (typically 12 ” x 12” x 12”) in a wall made for the placing of urns containing cremated remains. Sometimes inside of a building. Urns are placed in these niches as final resting place. Niches may be made of concrete, granite or metals. See also Columbarium.

Obituary

A notice of a person's death usually with a short biographical account that is typically published in local newspapers.

OGR

The International Order of the Golden Rule is an international, not-for-profit membership organization of more than 1,000 locally family owned funeral homes. Members come together to share common goals of providing unsurpassed care and compassion to families in their time of need, for continuing professional development, and to exchange ideas through a variety of forums. For more information please visit www.ogr.org.

Onsite Engraving

To carve, cut, or etch on already existing memorials, natural stone, brick, wood, glass and many other materials. See also Cemetery Lettering.

Opening and Closing of Grave

Locating the grave and laying out the boundaries, excavating, and back filling the space after the interment takes place. Today grave openings are typically preformed by machinery such as backhoes. In the past they were typically hand dug, but even today some difficult to access cemetery spaces need to be hand dug.

Organ Donation

The removal of specific tissue from a human body who has recently died, or from a living donor for the purpose of transplanting them into other persons (definition). See also Anatomical Donation.

Ossuary

An old definition is a place or receptacle for bones of the dead. More recent is a receptacle typically buried in a cemetery having a locked access portal that is used as a common burial site for cremated human remains. Frequently, there are memorialization opportunities adjacent to the receptacle's portal like a wall, benches, or stepping stones to engrave the name of the deceased whose ashes are buried there.

Pallbearer

One of the people walking beside or carrying the casket at a funeral.

Plot

A space in the cemetery used, or intended to be used, for the interment of human remains. The term includes and applies to one or more adjoining graves one or more adjoining crypts or more or more adjoining niches.

Pre Need

Planning ones funeral in advance of the death, usually consisting of a list of your preferences for funeral arrangements including selection of funeral merchandise, cemetery plot locations, memorials, songs, pallbearers etc. Frequently funding for Pre Need contracts is done with an insurance policy or prepaid into a trust or other investment means. Pre Need contracts can be purchased through funeral homes, cemeteries, and certain Pre Need insurance companies. Pre Need laws vary by state.

Retort

The common name for the machine that the body is placed in for cremation. The interior and stack are lined with high density firebrick. Most have a primary burner and after burner and are fueled by natural gas or propane. The controls are electronic and exteriors are typically stainless steel.

Scattering

Term referring to the placement of cremated human remains into a location or environment which may have been requested by the deceased. Many cemeteries have scattering gardens specifically for this purpose, while there is no typical prohibition against scattering; it is advisable to obtain permission from landowners before scattering. There are services which will scatter cremated remains from an airplane or boat over areas designated by the family.

Sea Burial

Burial at sea that typically comes about by one dying at sea or for members of the Navy. The navy has specific requirements for sea burials. The EPA also has guidelines that stipulate sea burials- they shall take place three miles from land in water at least 600 feet deep. The EPA encourages that you add weight to the casket so that it sinks rapidly and permanently. They also request you fill out a form within 30 days of burial at sea.

Social Security Death Benefit

Currently the social security administration provides a $250 death benefit to anyone who qualifies with adequate earnings if they have paid in a total of 40 quarters or 10 years. This amount maybe adjusted periodically for cost of living. Typically the funeral home where services are provided will process the paperwork for this benefit. For more information please visit www.ssa.gov/pubs/deathbenefits.htm.

State Room

Term referring to a room in a funeral home or mortuary that would be used while a body lies in state for viewing and visitation purposes by friends and family.

Taps

A bugle call played at military funerals.

Tissue Donations

See Anatomical Donations.

Tombstone

A gravestone, burial monument, or memorial inscribed and set at a place of interment. See also Headstone or Monument.

Tribute

An acknowledgement of gratitude, respect, or admiration of the deceased. Evidence attesting to some praiseworthy quality or characteristic.

VA Death Benefits

The Department of Veteran Affairs or state/local government agencies offer veteran burial services to eligible veterans in State or Federal cemeteries. All Veterans and their spouses, with honorable discharge & with one day of active duty are entitled to free cemetery property, headstone, open and close of the grave and perpetual care at any National Cemetery. For more information please visit www.va.org.

VA Markers

VA furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a standard Government headstone or marker for the grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world. If Veteran chooses cremation an engraved niche cover (shutter) will be provided.

Veterans Funeral

A veteran's burial service for those men and women who served their country in the military. See also Military Funeral Honors.

Video Tribute

A memorial DVD that uses photographs or home video to remember a loved one; played at a funeral and may be produced by the funeral home. See also Tribute.

Viewing Room

A room that provides ample space for families and friends to see their loved one, one last time, together and reminisce. See also State Room.

Undertaker

Term used following the Civil War to describe those who “undertook” the preparation of the dead for final rites and burial, which many times included construction of the coffin. This is typically today's funeral director.

Urn

Container designed to hold cremated remains. Typically made of wood, metal, glass or other natural materials.

Viewing/Visitation or Wake

A social gathering held with or without the body present. A time for family and friends to express condolences and share support for one another.

Will

A legal document that controls the disposition of your property at death and may provide for guardianship for your children after your death. A will is not effective until death. As long as you are living, your will has no effect and no property or rights to property are transferred by it. Also see Last Testament.

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