Funerary and Memorial Cultural Glossary

Some words have jumped out at us over the course of our work with funeral and memorial culture. This glossary explores the psychology of aging, death, dying, as well as funeral and memorial customs as reflected in language.


  • Active Dying - the process of physically dying; permanent cessation of bodily functions
  • Advance Directive
    Advance Directive - a written document that indicates what types of medical treatments a person wants and whom the doctor should talk to when a person is unable to speak for himself/herself. This document is the combination of a Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
  • Age-related Grief - Grief as that occurs in relation to one's age. The grief over lost youth.
  • Agnostic Funeral - funeral for a person who neither believes nor disbelieves in a deity, agnostics claim neither faith or disbelief
  • Al Kafan - (see burial shroud)
  • Arrangement Conference
  • Aqua pyre - (see hydro cremation)

  • Arrangement conference - the meeting with the funeral director in which you make plans for your loved one's funeral or memorial and the preferred method of disposition
  • Art Coffin - craft coffin used in memorial art therapy to write special messages and decorate with special artwork in tribute of the deceased


Basket Casket
  • Basket Casket - a casket that is fabricated of a natural woven material, often wicker, willow, bamboo, banana leaf, and seagrass
  • Bereavement Coordinator - coordinates the grief counseling to the families of the recently deceased
  • Blended Family - generally consists of one female and one male and the children from their prior relationships; may also include children from their present relationship
  • Burial - also referred to as interment; generally refers to earth burial at a cemetery or a natural woodland burial
  • Burial Basket - (see basket casket)
  • Burial Doll - effigy created in likeness of missing person for the purpose burial rites in memorial art therapy; promotes closure for families of missing persons
  • Burial Garments - clothing selected and worn by the deceased for burial or cremation
  • Burial Pod - biodegradable papier mâché burial container
  • Burial Shroud - cloth wrapping placed around a decedant in preparation for burial (see photos of burial shrouds )
  • Burial Swaddling - cloth used to wrap infants that have died in preparation of burial
  • Burial Tree - tree planted in memory of the deceased, may or may not be placed at the gravesite


  • Cadaver - a dead human body used for the purposes of medical research, study, anatomical dissection and transplantation.
  • Casketry - selection of burial coffins and caskets found in a funeral home's merchandise display room 
La Catrina

  • la Catrina - Originally drawn by Jose Guadalupe Posada, La Catrina is a female skeleton caricature of the rich and wealthy and sysymbolizes that no matter how much money we have, we cannot escape death. La Catrina is used in many Day of the Dead (el dia de los muertos) decorations and statues. (See Day of the Dead below)
  • Celebrant - a person who officiates a personalized and meaningful memorial or funeral ceremony
  • Cemetery Arts - monuments or art installations present at cemeteries for the purpose of memorialization
  • Chevrah Kadisha - In the Jewish faith, a group of men or women from the synagogue who are assigned to care for the dead
  • Columbarium - an standing structure with spaces (niches) where cremated remains are secured
  • Committal service - a brief graveside service held before the casket or urn is placed into the ground or columbarium
  • Contemporaneity - existing or occurring in the same period of time
  • Corpse - a dead human body
  • Corpse Dog - (also incorrectly referred to as Cadaver Dog) dogs used for locating the dead in disasters
  • Coroner - an official in a community responsible for researching unexplicable, violent and or sudden deaths
  • Cortege - a procession of vehicles driving from the funeral service to the place of disposition (usually the cemetery)
  • Fire-based Cremation
  • Cremation - the Greek originated method of reducing the dead body small bone fragments by fire (flame based) or present day, by treated water (alkaline hydrolysis) (see hydro cremation)
  • Crone movement - A movement that takes its name from the archetype of the older woman, as a symbol of wisdom and strength (also known as crone energy)
  • Crypt - an above ground burial site inside a mausoleum


Dia de los Muertos / Day of the Dead Skeletons
  • Day of the Dead (el dia de los muertos) - a holidayy, usually celebrated on November 2nd in Mexico and other Central and South American countries when people honor and pay tribute to deceased relatives by decorating the grave and setting up an altar of food and gifts as tribute to the deceased at home. Skeleton imagery and statues are often used as part of the decorations. (Learn more about the history of the holiday by viewing our video on Day of the Dead.)
  • Death Doula - one (can be either a male or female) who aids the dying through the final dying process and often prepares the body for viewing once death has occurred.
  • Death Midwife - female version of death doula 
    Oregon has Death with Dignity Law Since 1994
  • Death with Dignity - in Oregon, a 1994 Measure established the U.S. state of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act (ORS 127.800-995[1]), which legalizes physician-assisted dying with certain restrictions. Passage of this initiative made Oregon the first U.S. state and one of the first jurisdictions in the world to permit some terminally ill patients to determine the time of their own death. (Visit the Death with Dignity national center for more info)
  • Decompiculture - refers to how decomposing organisms could be grown or cultured for a variety of uses, for instance to decompose waste; in human burial, refers to cultivating fungi for the purpose of facilitating corpse decomposition.
  • Direct cremation - immediate cremation without a funeral or memorial service
  • Direct burial - immediate burial without a funeral service
  • Disaster Mortuary - an emergency response mortuary team deployed to a mass fatality disaster for the purpose of preserving the dead for identification (visit DMORT - Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team)
  • Disaster Veterinary - an emergency response veterinary team deployed to disasters for the purpose of collecting, treating and caring for displaced animals (Visit the AVMA Disaster Veterinary page)
  • Doll Urn - anthropomorphic doll used to hold cremated remains, often in the form of a soft stuffed animal or bear
  • DNR - Stands for Do Not Resuscitate. It is a request to not have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops and/or if you stop breathing


Embalming Fluid
  • Embalming - (see hygienic treatment)
  • Entombment - placement of a casket in an above-ground structure (mausoleum)
  • Enzyme Hydrolysis - (see hydro cremation)
  • Ethical Will - a document written by the dying to pass along ethical values, life lessons and wishes for the surviving loved ones; a practice that originated with the Lakota Sioux and the Hebrews (read more on ethical wills )



  • Family-Led Funeral - (see home funeral)
    Family Led Funeral
  • Fantasy Coffin - Decorative coffins made in bright colors and bold shapes that are themed in celebration of the way the deceased lived; an idea that originated in Ghana
  • Final Disposition - the performance of final services pertaining to the dead (Next of Kin decides this for each person)
  • Fluctuating capacity - when the patient sometimes has the mental ability to make his or her own decisions and sometimes does not have the ability
  • Funeral - a ceremony honoring the life of a person who has died where the body is present for the service (not to be confused with memorial which takes place without the body present)
  • Funeral Fundraiser - a fundraising effort used to aid a family in the funeral expenses of a loved one, often in the cases of unexpected deaths
  • Funeralogy - the study of funeral rituals, ceremonies, culture and customs


Ghost Bike
  • G-Burial - abbreviated version of green burial
  • Gerontophobia - the fear of growing old, or a hatred or fear of the elderly.
  • Green Burial - natural earth burial without the use of chemicals, graveliners or crypts, usually in biodegradable containers (read more on green burial)
  • Ghost Bicycle - a bike painted entirely white (including tires), that is affixed where a fatal bike accident occurred (usually in an urban setting or on a roadside), in memoriam of one who has died; the practice of which originated from the United Kingdom (see a ghost bike )
  • Grave liner - concrete slabs used instead of a vault, to support the earth load inside of a grave (not used in green burial) (see how a vault supports the earth load)
  • Grief Facilitator - (see bereavement coordinator)
  • Guardian
  • Guardian - A court-appointed person who is assigned to make decisions for an incapacitated person. This person may also be called a conservator. This person is often in charge of medical decisions and or financial decisions.


  • HIPPA - Health Information Portability and Accountability Act; A law that protects medical information and gives individuals the right to decide who will and will not have access to his/her own personal health information (see more info on the HIPPA act )
  • Holistic End-of-Life Care - focused on continuity of care from aging well, dying, death, funeralization and after care
  • Holographic Will - a will that is written entirely by hand of the person the will belongs to
  • Home-Funeral - a funeral that is held in the home of the decedant; it may be with or
    Home Funeral
    without the assistance of a funeral director, but can alleviate the need to move the deceased to a funeral home (read about home funerals) (also known as family-led funeral)
  • Honorarium - the charitable fee typically paid to a clergy person or celebrant for officiating the funeral or memorial ceremony, or for the musicians or soloists for their performances in the ceremony
  • Humanist - Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to universal human qualities, particularly rationality, without resorting to the supernatural or alleged divine authority from religious texts.
Hydro Cremation

  • Hydro Cremation -the environmentally friendly version of cremation that reduces human remains to small bone fragments through the process of hydrolysis, using water, heat, agitation and an alkali solution (also known as bio-cremation and resomation) (read more about hydro cremation)
  • Hygienic Treatment - the intravascular cleansing of the circulatory system of the dead human body for the purposes of slowing putrefaction and for disease control during extended viewing or travels (also known as embalming)


  • Iatrogenic illness - induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures & iatrogenic rash
  • Identity-stripping - All persons flying on commercial airlines would be identity-stripped by a database that would include their names, phone numbers, addresses, dates of birth, their traveling companions and itineraries, how tickets were paid, rental car information and destinations, names and addresses of businesses the passenger has used, all information about their current and past car ownership and even newspaper subscriptions. Gullette's use is different. Gullette's idea is a more personal loss/sense of identity, whereas the above definition refers to an exposure of one's personal information.


  • Jinazah - a funeral or funeral prayer for Muslims (in Islam)




  • Kin - one's relatives, referring to blood relationship. (Next of kin has right of final disposition for one who has died.)




  • Life cycle - The biological cycles of life from conception to death.
  • Life Story Review - the review and collection of one's biographical history and important life events, often in a hospice setting, but sometimes collected during pre-need funeral arrangements (how to collect a life review)
  • Living Will - a written document that indicates what types of medical treatments are desired. This can be specific or general. It can also be called an Advance Directive.
  • Living Funeral - a pre-death celebration of life to honor one who is nearing the end of life; the tone is often celebratory, but can be serious in nature as well (read more about living funerals and activities )


Memorial Art Therapy
  • Mausoleum - a small building in a cemetery that where a body is interred above ground
  • Memorial - a service or ceremony honoring the life of a person who has died, the body is not present for this service. Cremated remains (ashes) may or may not be present. (Not to be confused with funeral)
  • Memorial Adventure - the process of scattering a loved one's ashes on pilgrimage to location(s) of special significance (read more about scattering ash stories and travels)
  • Memorial Art Therapy - the therapeutic use of art to address and heal grief; artwork made in memory of one who has died; can include works that incorporate a loved ones cremated ashes, artifacts or hair (cremation jewelry with ashes incorporate into the art piece)
  • Memorial Ecosystem - the biological community of interacting organisms within the cemetery environment
  • Memorial Fundraiser - (see funeral fundraiser)
  • Memorial Telecast - the transmission of funeral/memorial services over the internet or television
  • Memorialogy - the study of memorialization and remembrances
  • Mortuary Arts - the science and study of preserving human remains for the purpose of viewing
  • Mourning Wear - clothing that communicates one is grieving, historically this was worn for a designated period of time after a death (see photos of historic mourning clothing)


  • Niche - a space in a cemetery columbarium that holds cremated remains (ashes) permanently for visitation


  • Obituary - a notice placed in a newspaper that announces the death to the community, covers a briefly write up on the person's life and may or may not invites readers to attend a funeral or memorial
  • Ontological - the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
  • Out Funeral - a funeral that celebrates the lifestyle preference of the individual in addition to honoring the deceased


Private Property Burial
  • Pallbearers - the people who carry the casket from the funeral ceremony to the hearse and from the hearse to the gravesite
  • POLST - Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatments, which is a doctor's order form that documents the patient's wishes, not only about CPR but for other end-of-life choices. (Visit Official POLST website for Oregon)
  • Private Property Burial - burial on one's home property, the legality of which is usually determined by local ordinances (view more info on private property burial)


  • Quasi -Property Theory - the legal theory pertaining to the dead human body whereby rights to the body are only associated with disposition purposes only; no other property rights to the body exist.


Rental Coffin / Rental Casket
  • Rental Coffin - a coffin that is used purely for the funeral service and not utilized for final burial or cremation. It is designed to accommodate a fitted liner which the body is laid within, the liner is then placed inside the rental coffin and removed immediately after services, usually used in cases of cremation
  • Restorative Art - a term that refers to repair of the dead body to make it presentable for final viewing


Sindone or Tachrichim aka Burial Shroud
  • Second Burial - when a body is exhumed after some time, then cremated and placed in a family columbarium (usually occurs in traditional Asian cultures)
  • Secular Funeral - a funeral service focused on celebrating the individual's life and accomplishments; not religious or spiritual in nature
  • Sindone - (see burial shroud)
  • Somatic Death - activation-induced cellular death, cessation of life


  • Tachrichim - a Jewish burial shroud that is typically handsewn and made of white linen
  • Thanatology - the study of death


Cremation Urn


Vault around casket
  • Vault - a concrete or metal container into which the casket is placed in a traditional cemetery burial (green burial grounds require that vaults not be used) (learn how a vault is used to support the earth load)
  • Village Memorial - When family, friends and neighbors (community) comes together to celebrate a life, and or participate in end of life care.
  • Visitation - a scheduled time for family and friends to view the person who died (also referred to as a viewing)


Water Cremation



  • Yahrzeit - anniversary of the death (in the Jewish faith)
  • Yizkor - a memorial service that is recited 4 times a year (in the Jewish faith)


  • Zenetery - a cemetery that is styled in the tradition of the Japanese Zen Garden
  • Ziegler Case - a metal container that is gasket-sealed and used for shipping human remains either inside of a casket, or on its own 

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