Glossary of Funeral Terms


Whether planning your own funeral in advance or making arrangements for a loved one, here are a few helpful terms associated with the funeral industry below:

The A-Z Guide for Funerals

Funeral casket with flowers


ARRANGEMENT ROOM – A room of the funeral home used to make the necessary funeral arrangements with the family of the deceased.

ASPIRATE – Process of withdrawing fluids and gases from the abdominal cavity.


BEREAVED – (N) The immediate family of the deceased. (V) suffering from grief upon the death of a loved one.

BURIAL CERTIFICATE OR PERMIT – A legal paper issued by the local government authorizing burial. The permit may authorize earth burial or cremation or removal to a distant point.

BURIAL INSURANCE – An insurance policy in which the principal is paid in a funeral service and merchandise rather than cash.

BURIAL VAULT – A boxlike container for holding a casket for earth burial; the more substantial vault or a liner is required by most cemeteries to prevent the collapse of a grave after burial.


CASH ADVANCE ITEMS – Goods and services furnished by a third party and paid for by the funeral director on your behalf.

CASKET COACH – Hearse – A motor coach designed and used for the conveyance of the casketed remains from the place the funeral service is conducted to the cemetery. Also known as a Funeral Coach.

CASKET RACK – A device which allows caskets to be placed one on top of the other for display purposes.

CATAFALQUE – A stand upon which the casketed remains rest while instate and during the funeral service.

CENOTAPH – An empty tomb or monument erected in memory or a person buried elsewhere.

CERTIFIED DEATH CERTIFICATE – A legalized copy of the original certificate, issued upon request by the local government for the purpose of substantiating various claims by the family of the deceased such as insurance and other death benefits.

CHURCH TRUCK – A collapsible catafalque used for funerals.

COLUMBARIUM – A structure of vaults lined with recesses for urns containing cremated remains.

COMMITTAL SERVICE – The final portion of the funeral service at which time the deceased is interred or entombed.

CORONER – A public official and in some cases a constitutional officer whose duty it is to investigate the case of death if it appears to be from other than natural causes, or if there was no physician in attendance for a long time prior to death.

CORTEGE – The funeral procession.

CREMAINS – The remains of a body after cremation; cremated remains.

CREMATION – A process which reduces the body by heat to small bone fragments. When the fragments are pulverized, they are reduced to the consistency of coarse sand or crushed seashells.

CREMATORY – A building with a furnace called a retort which is used to cremate human remains (or the furnace/retort itself)

CRYPT – A vault or room used for keeping remains.

COT – The stretcher-like carrier used to remove deceased persons from the place of death to the funeral home.


DEATH CERTIFICATE – A legal paper signed by the attending physician showing the cause of death and other vital statistical data pertaining to the deceased.

DEATH NOTICE – That paragraph in the classified section of a newspaper publicizing the death of a person and giving those details of the funeral service the survivors wish to have published. Most such notices list the names of the relatives of the deceased.

DIRECT BURIAL – The body is transferred from the place of death to the funeral home, placed in a casket and then delivered directly to the burial site. There is no public viewing or graveside services.

DIRECT CREMATION – The body is transferred from the place of death to the funeral home, placed in a container and delivered directly to a crematory. There is no public viewing.

DISINTER – To remove the remains from the burial place; to dig up.

DISPLAY ROOM – That room in the funeral home in which caskets, Urns, burial garments and sometimes vaults are displayed.

DISPOSITION – The final resting place for the body or for cremated remains. Choices include burial of the body in the earth or a mausoleum; burial, scattering or deposit of cremated remains in an urn for placement in a niche or taking home; donation of the body to a research facility; or burial at sea (not permitted in the Great Lakes).


EMBALM – The process of sanitizing, disinfecting and temporarily preserving a dead body by means of circulating preservative and antiseptic through the veins and arteries.

ENTOMBMENT – Placement of the body in a casket above ground in a mausoleum.

EXHUME – To dig up the remains; to remove from the place of burial.


FLOWER CAR – A vehicle used for the transportation of flower pieces from the funeral home to the church and/or cemetery.

FINAL RITES – The funeral service.

FIRST CALL – The initial visit of the funeral director to the place of death for the purpose of removing the deceased and to secure certain information for which he has an immediate need.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR – A professional who prepares for the burial or other disposition of dead human bodies, supervises such burial or disposition, maintains a funeral establishment for such purposes, counsels with survivors. Synonym: mortician, undertaker.

FUNERAL SERVICE – 1) The profession which deals with the handling of dead human bodies; 2) The religious or other rites conducted immediately before final disposition of the dead human body.

FUNERAL SPRAY – A collective mass of cut flowers sent to the residence of the deceased or to the funeral home as a floral tribute to the deceased.


GRAVE LINER – A receptacle made of concrete, metal or wood into which the casket is placed as an extra precaution in protecting the remains from the elements. This is required by most cemeteries to prevent the collapse of a grave after burial. State law, however, usually does not require a grave liner.

GRAVE (OR MEMORIAL) MARKER – A method of identifying the occupant of a particular grave. Permanent grave markers are usually of metal or stone which gives such data as the name of the individual, date and place of birth, date and place of death.


HONORARY PALLBEARERS – Friends or members of a religious, social or fraternal organization who act as an escort or honor guard for the deceased. Honorary pallbearers do not carry the casket.


IN STATE – The custom of availing the deceased for viewing by relatives and friends prior to or after the funeral service.

INTER (to) – To bury a dead body in the earth in a grave or tomb.

INTERMENT – The act of burial.

INURNMENT – The placing of the ashes of one cremated in an urn.


LEAD CAR – The vehicle in which the funeral director and sometimes the clergyman rides. When the procession is formed, the lead car moves to the head of it and leads the procession to the church and/or cemetery.

LOWERING DEVICE – A mechanism used for lowering the casket into the grave. Apparatus is placed over the open grave which has two or more straps which support the casket over the opening. Upon release of the mechanism, the straps unwind from a cylinder and slowly lower the casket into the grave.


MAUSOLEUM – A public or private building especially designed to receive entombments. A permanent above ground resting place for the dead.

MEDICAL EXAMINER – A government official, usually appointed, who has a thorough medical knowledge and whose function is to perform an autopsy on bodies dead from violence, suicide, crime, etc., and to investigate circumstances of death.

MORGUE – A place to where bodies found dead are removed and exposed pending identification by relatives.

MORTICIAN – See funeral director.

MORTUARY – A synonym for funeral home – a building specifically designed and constructed for caring for the dead.


NICHE – A shell-like space in a wall made for the placing of urns containing cremated remains, or inside a building for this purpose which is called a columbarium. Urns are placed in these niches as a final resting place for cremated remains.


OBITUARY – A brief notice of the death of a person, particularly a newspaper notice, which usually lists the name of the deceased, the age, and a biographical sketch. Newspapers may or may not charge for publishing obituaries.


PALLBEARERS – Individuals whose duty is to carry the casket when necessary during funeral service. Pallbearers in some sections of the country are hired and in other sections are close friends and relatives of the deceased.

PRENEED, PREARRANGING or PREPLANNING – Planning a funeral in advance of the death, usually consisting of a list of your preferences for funeral arrangements.

PREPARATION ROOM – A room in a funeral home designed and equipped for preparing the deceased for final disposition,

PRICE LIST – An itemized list of funeral goods and services.

PROCESSION – The vehicular movement of the funeral from the place where the funeral service was conducted to the cemetery. May also apply to a church funeral where the mourners follow the casket as it is brought into and taken out of the church.


REGISTER – A book made available by the funeral director for recording the names of people visiting the funeral home to pay their respects to the deceased.

RESTORATIVE ART – Derma surgery – The process of restoring mutilated and distorted features by employing wax, creams, plaster, etc.


SERVICE CAR – Usually a utility vehicle to which tasteful ornamentation may be added in the form of a metal firm name plate, post lamps, etc. It is utilized to transport chairs, church trucks, flower stands, shipping cases, etc.


TRADITIONAL SERVICE – A religious service with the body present usually preceded by visitation.

TRANSIT PERMIT – A legal paper issued by the local government authorizing removal of a body to a cemetery for interment. Some cities also require an additional permit if the deceased is to be cremated.


URN – A container into which cremated remains are placed, or in which they are kept; may be made of various materials, including wood, marble or metal.


VAULT – A burial chamber underground or partly so. Also includes in meaning the outside metal or concrete casket container.

VISITATION – A scheduled time, during which a body is present in an open or closed casket, when family and friends pay their respects, usually in private in a special room within the funeral home. Also referred to as a “viewing”, “calling hours”, “family hour” or “wake.”


WAKE – A watch kept over the deceased, sometimes lasting the entire night preceding the funeral.