Glossary of Terms
The world of Funerals, Memorials, and Cemeteries has a vocabulary all its own. Here are some definitions and clarifications you might find helpful.
Advance Health Care Directive
– An advance health care directive, also known as a power of attorney for health care or health care proxy, is a written document signed by an individual, called the “principal”, in which the principal expresses his or her desires concerning their health care. In the document, the principal may also appoint someone as his agent to make health care decisions for him. A living will is a different form of advance directive, in which you can express your preferences for health care treatment. However, a living will does not allow you to appoint an agent to act in your behalf. In California, following the death of the principal the agent named in an advance health care directive, or durable power of attorney for health care, can authorize funeral arrangements including cremation, and the disposition of the principal’s remains.
Alternative Container– See “Cremation Container”
– Also known as Post-Mortem Examination, an autopsy is a critical external evaluation and surgical examination of someone who has passed away to determine the cause of death. This generally includes direct inspection of various tissues inside the body and possibly chemical testing of fluids contained within the body. There are certain circumstances where a local or county coroner will require an autopsy. An autopsy is typically required when a person’s cause of death is not known by a doctor or a person dies as a result of an accident or injury. Families might request a private autopsy when the deceased family member might have a medical condition that would affect other family members or future generations.
Bier-A bier is a stand on which the decedent’s casket containing the deceased, is placed for a viewing, visitation, or service. A bier is sometimes used to carry the deceased to their grave. The modern funeral industry uses a collapsible aluminum bier on wheels, known as a “church truck” to move the casket to and from the church or mortuary for services.
Burial –The act of placing a deceased person into the ground in a burial casket or an urn if the person was cremated. In some areas, such as Southern California, cemeteries require that the casket or urn be placed in a vault prior to burial.
Care Center –The location inside the mortuary where the deceased are cared for. The Care Center may include a refrigerated holding facility, an embalming room, and an area for dressing, cosmetizing, hair styling, and placing the deceased in a casket or alternative cremation container. The Care Center might also have a crematory.
Casket-A container made of cardboard, wood, or metal that is used to house the remains of someone who has passed away and usually has an interior lining or bedding.
Certified Celebrant-A person who has been specially trained to assist families in organizing, coordinating, and presenting a completely unique life celebration, ceremony, or memorial service that reflects the unique life of the person who has passed away. The celebrant offers innovative ideas for planning unique memorials, ceremonies, and celebrations and can also help coordinate the events with our Lighthouse Event Planner.
Celebration of Life-A unique gathering held to celebrate the life of the person who has passed away, rather than mourn a death; a positive and warmer remembrance. Depending on the circumstances of a person’s death, emotions may range from anguish (due to feeling the loss) to relief (at the final end of suffering for the deceased). Approaches on creating a tribute to a person’s life may also range from sad or somber to more celebratory and upbeat. People who desire a celebration of life are more oriented to focusing their tribute on celebrating the positive aspects of the life that was lived and less on being sad about having lost the person who passed.
Cemetery-A park-like place where a deceased person’s casketed remains may be placed in the ground (a grave) or in an above ground space called a crypt or mausoleum. A person’s cremated remains may be placed in the ground (a grave) or in an above ground space called a niche.
Ceremony-An event of significance performed on a special occasion such as the death of a loved one; signifies change and may mark a rite of passage.
Certified Copy of the Death Certificate-A certified duplicate of the death certificate which states that a person has passed away (there is only one original copy of the death certificate which is kept on file at the health department for record keeping). This document lists the official causes of death and is needed for closing out bank accounts, transferring ownership of vehicles, homes, and other items. It is also used for tracing family history (see also “Death Certificate”).
Chapel-A room inside the mortuary or funeral home which is used for holding religious and non-religious services, ceremonies, memorials, or celebrations of life.
Coffin-Like a casket, it is a container used to house the remains of a deceased person that is characterized by a narrower design towards the foot end.
Columbarium –A wall or free-standing structure that houses multiple niches or individual spaces for urns containing cremated remains. Columbaria (plural) may be built into an indoor or outdoor mausoleum or be a free-standing structure. Columbaria are most typically found in cemeteries but are also frequently located in churches.
Committal Service-The final portion of a funeral service in which some words or prayers are said just prior to the decedent being interred in their final resting place.
Companion Crypt/Companion Space/Companion Niche-A space in a mausoleum, burial ground or columbarium which is made for two caskets or two urns to be placed.
Companion Urn-An urn which can hold the cremated remains of two people.
Coroner- A public official whose duty it is to investigate the cause of death if the deceased had not been recently seen by a doctor, died as a result of an accident or injury, or if the death looks suspicious. The coroner has the right to step in and take over the decision about a person’s cause of death if they feel it is necessary.
Cortege-Escorted funeral procession
Cremation-California law defines the process as: “The human body burns with the casket, container, or other material in the cremation chamber. Some bone fragments are not combustible at the incineration temperature and, as a result, remain in the cremation chamber. During the cremation, the contents of the chamber may be moved to facilitate incineration. The chamber is composed of ceramic or other material which disintegrates slightly during each cremation and the product of that disintegration is comingled with the cremated remains. Nearly all of the contents of the cremation chamber, consisting of the cremated remains, disintegrated chamber material and small amounts of residue from previous cremations, are removed together and crushed, pulverized, or ground to facilitate inurnment or scattering. Some residue remains in the cracks and uneven places of the chamber. Periodically, the accumulation of this residue is removed and interred in a dedicated cemetery property, or scattered at sea.”
Cremation Container-Also known as an alternative container. It is a container that can be purchased to house the remains of a decedent prior to cremation; this would be a simpler type of casket. If you want to arrange a direct cremation, you can use an alternative container. Alternative containers encase the body and can be made of materials like fiberboard or composition materials (with or without an outside covering). The containers we provide are alternative containers and other cremation containers, including containers made of wood, containers made of fiberboard and containers made of other composite materials. A casket made of combustible materials or wood can also be used for cremation.
Crematory/Crematorium-A building or room that houses one or more cremation chambers/cremation retorts used to cremate human remains.
Crypt –In Europe, a stone chamber or vault beneath the floor of a church that houses a deceased person’s remains. In California, most typically a space in an indoor or outdoor mausoleum building used for the entombment of one or more casketed human remains.
Death Certificate-A legal document that is issued by the county health department which states the date, location and causes of a person’s death and is kept on file at the county health department. Before a deceased person can be cremated and/or placed in a cemetery, a death certificate must be certified by a local health department. The mortuary or funeral home works with the certifying doctor or coroner’s office to help complete the death certificate and then files it with the health department. The health department has the final authority to determine whether or not a cause of death is legally acceptable or valid. In California, and in many places around the country, this process is accomplished electronically on the internet (see also “Certified Copy of the Death Certificate”).
Deceased-The termination of the biological life functions in a living organism; a person who is no longer living. If a person is in a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or other care facility, a nurse or doctor will usually determine that a person has died. In California, if a person dies at home or another location, the police should be called if it appears that death was caused due to an accident, injury or if the cause of death is completely unknown. For someone who has been under either a doctor’s care or on hospice care, it is not necessarily required that the death be pronounced by a medical professional. In many instances, hospice offers to handle pronouncing the death to relieve the family and friends from this responsibility.
Decedent-A person who is no longer living. See also “Deceased.”
Disinter-To remove a deceased person from their place of burial. This is done for various reasons: to re-examine the causes of death or to take the deceased to a different cemetery or plot.
Disposition-This refers to what will ultimately be done with the deceased person and where their final resting place will be, i.e.: cemetery placement or cremation? Which cemetery will the casket or urn be taken to? Will the cremated remains be placed in a cemetery, scattered, or kept at home for a period of time?
Disposition Permit-A legal document authorizing cemetery placement or cremation of a deceased person and states the final place of disposition.
DPOA-See “Advance Health Care Directive.”
Embalm-The process of temporarily preserving a deceased person by circulating preservatives and antiseptic fluids through the person’s veins and arteries. Depending on the condition of the body, embalming processes may also include trauma or autopsy repair and other topical or external preservative treatments. In California, embalming is not required by law but is typically required by funeral homes or mortuaries if the decedent is going to be viewed publically, or for an extended period of time. Embalming may not be required for brief private viewings.
Embalmer-A person who has been specially trained and licensed to care for, cleanse and preserve a deceased person with preservative and disinfectant fluids; this person is also skilled in applying cosmetics, hair dressing, dressing, and restorative arts.
Entombment-To place casketed remains in a mausoleum or above ground interment space.
Escorted Funeral Procession-A ceremonial and practical method of driving from a funeral ceremony (at a church or mortuary) to the cemetery. To many people, this is a highly valued ceremonial aspect of services. Additionally, this is a practical method of making sure that everyone is moved in an organized way from the service and arrives at the cemetery at the same time so graveside services can begin. Typically, the funeral coach, or hearse, carrying the decedent is followed by limousines or family cars and then by other attendees. The procession is escorted through traffic signals by specially trained motorcycle escorts.
Eulogy-A well-crafted speech or spoken tribute given at a funeral service or event in honor of a person who has passed away. This speech may include many aspects of a person’s life: birth places, family life, funny and memorable stories, phrases the person used to say, hobbies and life accomplishments. The best eulogies are factual, honest, respectful, heart-felt and relatively concise. Eulogies can include a poem or song and do not necessarily need to be a complete biography. Instead, you might try telling your story about your relationship with the deceased and how he/she affected your life.
Other eulogy ideas- establish a brief history; recap and honor family members and personal and important relationships; review important times and influences during their life: marriages, births, school achievements, etc.; collect and present memories from family and friends as well as your own memories; recite a favorite poem, prayer, song, or saying.
Exhume- To remove the deceased from their place of burial in order to re-investigate the person’s death.
Farewell Party-A more casual gathering at a location comfortable to the participants that is held to celebrate and remember the life of the person who passed away. The farewell party can incorporate sharing memories, stories jokes, video productions, music, and mementos of the deceased. Food and drinks are also present. Seen as a way to say goodbye and gain closure in a more upbeat and comfortable way.
Final Rites-Certain ceremonial aspects of religious funeral services that follow the customs and practices of a particular religion.
Funeral Director-In California, a licensed person who acts as a provider of information and options, takes a family’s instructions, coordinates funeral details, and directs the funeral service. Synonymous with less often used terms “Mortician” and “Undertaker”.
Funeral Home-A licensed establishment that is qualified to prepare the deceased, arrange services, and conduct the services or events. In many states, funeral establishments, embalmers, and funeral directors must be licensed. However, this is not the case in all states.
Funeral Mass-A Roman Catholic traditional Mass of Christian Burial service that is a final honor to the deceased.
Funeral Service-While “funeral” practices are becoming more and more varied, a “funeral service” is generally thought of as following a more traditional format. A typical traditional funeral service might include viewing/visitation/calling hours with the casketed remains of the deceased present, a church or mortuary service, with an escorted procession to the cemetery and a graveside committal service. A traditional service can also be concluded with the deceased being cremated rather than having a graveside service.
Here is how we are different: We have many skilled directors who can help facilitate the needs of families who want a traditional funeral service as well as helping families who want something different. Not only can we help with more traditional needs we can also help families plan a unique event like nothing that they have seen before. We have held services on the beach, private clubs, sports arenas, stadiums, parks, restaurants, hotel penthouses, homes, backyards, botanical gardens, clubhouses, and more.
Grave-The area in the earth where the deceased will be buried.
Grave Liner-A concrete container in which the casket is placed for burial. This can also be placed on top of the casket after it has been lowered into the grave. This protects the casket and stabilizes it underground to prevent shifting due to natural earth processes. Many cemeteries require a grave liner or a vault.
Graveside Service-When the only service or ceremony is held at the cemetery grave site. There are also cryptside and nicheside services. Due to the fact that the service mostly takes place outside (unless it is inside a mausoleum), there are usually no sound systems, video display systems, and there is limited seating (mostly standing room). The service or ceremony may be affected by wind and weather (so photo displays are not encouraged), restroom facilities and access to refreshments is limited.
On the other hand, there are some very unique ceremonies that are only possible outdoors, such as: white bird releases, balloon releases, butterfly releases, veteran’s 21 gun salutes, and horse drawn carriages. There are several things that can be done inside, as well as at a graveside service, such as: mariachi, bagpipers and drummers, harpists, guitarists and other musicians, flower placement ceremonies, eulogies and sharing memories.
For some people, there is also a very special significance of being with their loved one for the first time at their final resting place.
Hearse/Coach-The traditional funeral car that ceremonially transports the decedent to services and the cemetery.
Holy Cards/Prayer Cards-A small card with a design, photo, or religious artwork on one side and the decedent’s name and a prayer or poem on the other side. The card is passed out at the services as a keepsake.
Honorarium-A donation given to the church or clergy as a gift from the family.
Honorary Pallbearer-Friends or family members selected by the family who escort the decedent’s casket to services from the funeral car to the place of service in honor of the deceased. These pallbearers do not actually carry the casket and usually walk before or behind the casket.
Inter-To place the deceased in a grave, niche or mausoleum in a cemetery or memorial park.
Interment-The act of placing the deceased in a grave, niche, or mausoleum cemetery or memorial park.
Inurnment-The act of placing the cremated remains into an urn as well as the act of placing the decedent’s urn into a niche or burial site.
Memorial Mass-A traditional Catholic mass held in memory of the deceased without the decedent’s casket present. In some churches, a memorial mass might also include the decedent’s cremated remains being present.
Mausoleum-An indoor or outdoor building, where casketed or cremated remains are placed in crypts (casketed) or niches (cremated). These can be constructed for an individual, a family, or be one building for a large number of people.
Memorabilia Table-A table that is draped by a cloth and available during the viewing, service or event and reception to display personal items. These items include things that represent hobbies and interests; some of the decedent’s “favorite things”; photos, golf clubs, baseball caps, gardening gloves, fishing poles, awards, needlepoint, photos of travel destinations, war memorabilia, or any other memorabilia that would remind family and guests of their loved one.
Memorial Folder-A small and simple printed bi-fold program that usually contains a photo of the deceased or a design on the cover. The inside usually contains a poem, hymn or passage; birth and death dates; birth and death places; and basic service information.
Memorial Marker-Also known as a headstone. Can be made of granite, marble or various metals, used to mark the grave of the deceased and is placed at the head of the grave.
Memorial Service-A celebration or farewell service without the casketed remains of the deceased present. Often, an urn holding the decedent’s cremated remains and/or a photograph will be present in memory of the deceased. These services can be religious or non-religious and are held in any type of venue.
Morgue-A refrigerated place in a hospital or medical examiner’s office where the deceased are held pending transfer to the mortuary or funeral home.
Mortician-See “Funeral Director”
Motorcycle Escorts-Professional motorcycle escorts that safely guide the procession from the place of service to the cemetery (often confused with motorcycle police officers).
Mortuary-See “Funeral Home”
Newspaper Obituary-An announcement of a person’s death that is placed in the newspaper that may include any or all of the following information – a brief biography; viewing and service dates and times, ceremony, memorial service, & celebration of life date & times; cemetery location, photo, donations suggested, and community acknowledgement messages.
Next of Kin-The person who is the closest living relative to the deceased and has the legal right/obligation for making funeral arrangements. In California these rights are superseded by a person named as a durable power of attorney for healthcare or named in an advance healthcare directive. In California a person named as a conservator, an executor, or who is named in a will has no legal standing to handle funeral arrangements even though they may have primary responsibility for other affairs of the decedent. A “common law” wife likewise has no right to control funeral arrangement regardless of the length of time the couple may have been together. This information is subject to change.
Niche-An individual space in a wall (columbarium) of a mausoleum or an individual space in a free standing columbarium for the placement of an urn or urns.
Obituary Program-A funeral program containing a life tribute and description of the deceased. This is often in the form of a booklet and contains photos and the order of services.
Opening and Closing Fees-The fees that a cemetery requires for the opening and closing of a grave site, mausoleum space, or niche space. This fee also typically includes administrative services provided by the cemetery.
Order of Service-An organized order of services that is usually found in printed materials passed out at the service so that people know what will happen during the funeral.
Pallbearers-Family or friends selected by the family with the honor of carrying or escorting the deceased’s casket during funeral services when needed. Pallbearers can either physically carry the casket or escort the casket on a type of “cart” from the funeral coach into the church or other service location, from the church to the funeral coach after services, and from the funeral coach to the cemetery grave or crypt for interment. The funeral director will review the pallbearer’s duties with them just prior to services and guide them along the way. Pallbearers should be in good physical condition and capable of comfortably carrying their share of the combined weight of the deceased and the casket considering carrying distances, stairs, and elevation changes.
Prearrangement-Arrangements completed by an individual or their family members prior to their death. As with any subject that is unfamiliar to people, many people find that investigating information, reviewing options, and having time to make decisions in advance allows for better planning and helps to create a feeling of being prepared. When decisions have been made they can be placed on file at the mortuary or funeral home and if desired, specific services can be pre-arranged for by payment of charges.
Reception/Repast-A gathering of family and friends to share stories, visit, and provide comfort to the decedent’s family and each other. Receptions generally include personal music selections, food, beverages, refreshments, and may also include the opportunity for people to make informal speeches, and view any memorabilia, photos, and video tributes.
Reinter-To rebury the remains of the deceased after they have been disinterred.
Rental Casket –Sometimes used when making cremation arrangements so that the decedent’s body can be present for viewing and/or funeral services prior to cremation. The casket exterior is rented in place of purchasing a cremation casket or container and a replaceable liner is placed inside the rental casket for the deceased. Once the viewing and services are over, the liner holding the deceased is removed from the rental casket, a cover is placed on the liner, and the deceased is taken to the crematory.
Restorative Art-The art of restoring a decedent’s features in an attempt to make them look the way their family and loved ones remember. This is occasionally needed after accidents or surgeries and results vary depending on the decedents and surrounding circumstances.
Rigor Mortis-The stiffening of the muscles that occurs after a person has passed away. This occurs about 3 hours after a person has passed and they reach maximum stiffness about 12 hours after the passing. This gradually dissipates until about 72 hours after death.
Scattering-The act of dispersing cremated remains over land, sea, or other bodies of water. This requires permits. In California, the general rule is that cremated remains may be scattered in areas where no local prohibition exists, provided that the cremated remains are not distinguishable to the public, are not in a container, and that the person who has control over the disposition of the cremated remains has obtained written permission of the property owner or governing agency. Cremated remains may be taken by boat or by air and scattered at sea. Cremated remains shall be removed from their container before the remains are scattered.
Service Folder-A larger printed program that can be bi-fold or tri-fold. The service folder usually contains a photo of the deceased or a design on the cover. It can contain multiple pages and have multiple photos inside. The inside usually contains a poem, hymn or passage; birth and death dates; birth and death places; and basic service information. Sometimes the obituary is printed inside as well. Service folders allow the family of the deceased to be more creative in the layout and design.
Tribute –A memorial gift of words in the form of a speech often spoken to show praises or gratitude to the deceased as a sign of respect. This can also be a gathering in remembrance and celebration of the decedent’s life.
Undertaker-See “Funeral Director”
Urn-A container made of plastic, wood, various metals or bio-degradable materials in which cremated remains are placed. To be able to securely contain the cremated remains of a decedent, the interior of an urn should be a minimum of 200 cubic inches. In California, an urn must be made of materials which will not break if dropped from waist height. Most crematories also require that the urn be able to be securely closed or sealed. The cremated remains are secured in a very durable plastic bag inside the urn.
Vault-A concrete container in which the casket is placed for burial. This protects the casket and stabilizes it underground to prevent shifting due to natural earth processes. Many cemeteries require a grave liner or a vault.
Viewing-The presentation of the deceased for viewing and final respects. A decedent does not necessarily need to be embalmed or dressed for a viewing. Customarily, if a viewing will be public most funeral homes require embalming prior to viewing so the decedent can be viewed for an extended period of time. It is common in some funeral homes to offer immediate family members and close friends to privately see (view) the deceased for brief periods of time without requiring embalming. Depending on policies of the funeral home and other factors, viewings may be held in the home, in a bedroom style setting, in a shroud on a special table, casketed in a church or in the mortuary.
Vigil-A Roman Catholic service held on the evening before the funeral mass. This is also commonly called a “Rosary” because the Rosary is prayed at length during this time.
Visitation-A time for family and friends to gather and view the deceased or be present with the deceased in a closed casket.
Wake-Traditionally, a wake was a viewing held in the home of the deceased or their family. It is defined as a watch kept over the deceased for a longer period of time and in some places, held overnight. These are now more commonly held in mortuaries and are not held overnight.
Witnessed Cremation-Some crematories offer the opportunity to be present at the start of a cremation, sometimes called a witnessed cremation. The deceased can be viewed briefly just prior to witnessing the start of the cremation in a viewing area either right next to or inside the crematory. After the brief viewing, the casket or cremation container will be closed and family members may watch as the crematory operator places it into the cremation chamber. The cremation chamber door is then closed and the cremation is started by pressing a button or turning a control. In some cultures, it is customary for an honored member of the family to start the cremation. This is allowed in some crematories. After the cremation has been started, the family leaves and then may return later or the next day to receive the urn containing the cremated remains.
Website Obituary-A free service provided by the mortuary, this is an announcement of a person’s death that is placed on the mortuary’s website. This will often have a photo and description of the person’s life. People can come to the website obituary and leave condolence messages for the family, view the video Tribute, get directions to services or events and view the webcasted services or events.