Alternative Container: An unfinished wood box or other non-metal receptacle without ornamentation, often made of fiberboard, pressed wood, or composition materials, and generally lower in cost than caskets.
Arrangement Conference: A meeting with a funeral professional or cemetery sexton/steward to discuss funeral and/or burial details.
At Need Arrangements: Decisions and purchases made at the time of death rather than in advance, including selection of gravesite, burial container, type of service, etc. (See also Pre-need Arrangements).
AWC: “All wood casket” or “all wood construction” refers to “Jewish” caskets that are constructed of 100% wooden materials and contain no metal pieces. In some instances, there are no metal fasteners, but there may be metal handles or decorations that do not hold the casket together.
Beneficiary: The person with whom the pre-paid contract for burial rights was made.
Biodegradable Burial Containers: Caskets and shrouds capable of being decomposed or biodegraded by bacteria or other living organisms; often made of plant or animal fiber (wicker, sea grass, paper, linen, cotton, wool, willow, bamboo, etc.).
Blended Funerals: Funerals that combine conventional funeral practices with home funeral and/or green burial practices.
Casket: A box or chest for burying remains. The primary difference between a casket and coffin is the shape; a casket is rectangular, whereas a coffin is a diamond-shaped 6-sided container. See coffin.
Celebrant: A professional trained in designing and officiating at customized ceremonies that reflect the needs, beliefs, and values of the person being honored.
Cemetery Property: A grave, crypt, or niche.
Cemetery Services: Opening and closing graves, crypts or niches; setting grave liners and vaults; setting markers; and long-term maintenance of cemetery grounds and facilities.
Cenotaph: A monument, wall, bench, stone, or other structure engraved with the name(s) of the dead; often placed in a central location in a cemetery and used in place of an individual grave marker.
Coffin: A box or chest for burying remains. The primary difference between a coffin and a casket is the shape; a casket is rectangular, whereas a coffin is a diamond-shaped 6-sided container that is narrower at the feet and head and wider at the shoulders and torso. This shape uses less material than a casket so a coffin is generally less expensive. Coffins were popular in the U.S. prior to 1900 but are used less today, although they are still an option.
Columbarium: A structure with niches (small spaces) for placing cremated remains in urns or other approved containers. It may be outdoors or part of a mausoleum.
Committal Service: An elective ritual that occurs after a funeral service at the gravesite or location that cremated ashes are scattered; literally “committing the body to the earth and the care of God.”
Companion Grave: A grave in which two bodies are buried side by side in the same unit.
Conventional Cemetery. A cemetery that requires the use of a concrete or fiberglass grave liner and a hard-bottom casket; also known as a “lawn cemetery” or a “modern cemetery.”
Corrugated/cardboard: Caskets can be made very expensively from corrugated that is thicker than typical household cardboard and has a special coating to make it suitable to carry a body up to 250 lbs. (Some manufacturers may have models for heavier people.) The color is usually the standard carton brown, but some manufacturers offer a wide range of printed designs. A corrugated casket may also be covered with a flag, heirloom blanket, or cloth.
Cremation: Exposing remains and the container encasing them to extreme heat and flame and processing the resulting bone fragments to a uniform size and consistency.
Cremation Casket: A casket that holds the body during the cremation process. These can be made of wood or corrugated material. Since the casket gets cremated, too, most low-cost direct cremations use a corrugated container with a modest lining or no lining. A corrugated cremation casket can be put into a fancier rental casket for a viewing or funeral.
Cremation Tray or Air Tray: A wooden base that supports and strengthens a corrugated casket for handling a heavy person in a corrugated casket.
Crypt: A space in a mausoleum or other building to hold cremated or whole remains.
Disposition: The placement of cremated or whole remains in their final resting place.
Embalming: The process of removing blood and fluids from a dead body and inserting preservatives, surfactants, solvents, and coloration to slow decomposition and improve looks for a period of up to two weeks.
End crank or Casket Key: A handle placed into the side of a metal casket (and sometimes wood caskets) that helps mechanically pressurize the lid to tighten the seal on a gasketed casket.
Endowment Care Fund: Money collected from cemetery property purchasers and placed in trust for the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery.
Entombment: Burial in a mausoleum.
Excelsior: Filling for a casket pillow and mattress, usually made of spaghetti-type wood shavings.
Funeral Ceremony: A service commemorating the deceased, with the body present.
Funeral Director: See mortician.
Funeral Services: Services provided by a funeral director and staff, which may include consulting with the family on funeral planning; transportation, shelter, refrigeration, handling, and embalming of remains; preparing and filing notices; obtaining authorizations and permits; and coordinating with the cemetery, crematory, or other third parties.
Gage: A measurement of steel or metal thickness. The lower the gage number, the thicker the material.
Gasket: A rubber lining between the lid and casket base of a metal casket. Hardwood caskets never have a gasket, but may have an end-crank/casket key to secure the lid.
Grave: A space in the ground in a cemetery for the burial of remains.
Grave Liner: A concrete cover that fits over a casket in a grave, covering the top and sides of the casket to minimize ground settling. The other type of outer container, a vault, completely encloses the casket on all sides, including the bottom. Also see Outer Container and Vault.
Graveside Service: A service to commemorate the deceased held at the cemetery before burial.
Green Burial: A way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and restoration and/or preservation of habitat. Green burial necessitates the use of non-toxic and biodegradable materials, such as caskets, shrouds, and urns.
Half Couch: The top section of a casket/coffin lid that opens or is removable for a viewing of the deceased.
Home Burial: The practice of full body interment on residential land, usually in a rural setting. Local zoning and health department regulations apply, as do state-approved setbacks for known sources of water, buildings and highways. Often these are considered family cemeteries and must be established and reported as such to government agencies and are usually restricted to blood relatives or extended family.
Home Funeral: The process of family and friends, next of kin, or designated agent retaining custody and control of the body for the time period between death and disposition (burial or cremation); sometimes referred to as home vigil or do-it-yourself funeral.
Hybrid Burial Ground: A cemetery that allows vaults and offers green burial.
Interment: Burial in the ground, inurnment or entombment.
Inurnment: The placing of cremated remains in an urn.
Islamic Burial: Any of a number of burial practices common to the Islamic faith, depending on the sect, including collective bathing of the body, shrouding of the body, prayer, unfettered burial of the shrouded body in the grave within 24 hours, and positioning of the head facing towards Mecca. Cremation is forbidden to Muslims.
Jewish Burial: Any of a number of burial practices common to the Jewish faith, including burial within one day of death, wrapping the body in a white linen shroud made without knots, using a plain, wooden coffin containing no metal, and providing for direct contact with the earth (achieved by drilling holes in the bottom of the coffin, using a bottomless vault, or having a green burial).
Kosher or Orthodox casket, Jewish Box, Aron: All of these terms describe a casket with particular features that follow Jewish traditions. These are modest in appearance (often a plain pine box with an optional star of David symbol on top), with no metal fasteners, and with a few holes in the bottom to symbolically have the body touch the earth to go back to it more quickly. (Traditions preceeded burial vaults.) For more info, click here.
Lawn Cemetery: A cemetery where each grave is marked with a small commemorative plaque placed horizontally at ground level at the head of the grave. In most cases the plaques are a standard design, but families can be involved in the information contained on the plaque and the layout. See also monumental cemetery.
Mausoleum: A building in which remains are buried or entombed.
MDF: Medium Density Fiberboard, a smooth sheet of lumber made of compressed sawdust and resins that is used to make less expensive caskets. An MDF casket is usually painted or covered in cloth.
Memorial Service: A ceremony commemorating the deceased, without the body present.
Monumental Cemetery: The traditional style of cemetery where headstones or other monuments made of marble or granite rise vertically above the ground. There are countless different types of designs for headstones, ranging from very simple to large and complex. See also lawn cemetery.
Mortician: The terms mortician, undertaker, and funeral director mean the same thing: namely, a person who supervises or conducts the preparation of the dead for burial or cremation, and arranges or directs funerals. However, while the three terms are generally synonymous, a funeral director can refer to someone who owns or operates a funeral home. Mortician specifically means the person who handles the body in preparation for a funeral. Undertaker is actually a euphemism that refers to the person in charge of the body and burial service.
Niche: A space in a columbarium, mausoleum or niche wall to hold an urn.
Non-gasketed: Refers to metal caskets that are spot-welded and do not have a rubber gasket between the lid and base of the casket. Non-gasked caskets do not use casket keys.
Outer Burial Container: A burial vault or a grave liner that encases a casket to support the soil around the casket, minimizing ground settling. This keeps the lawn flat for mowing as well as maintaining appearance.
Particleboard: A sheet lumber made of compressed chip sawdust (the same material that virtually all IKEA furniture is made of) that is used to make less expensive caskets. A particleboard casket is always covered in cloth.
Pre-need Arrangements: Arrangements made prior to death, including gravesite selection. These arrangements can be made without pre-paying, although funeral homes and cemeteries usually encourage pre-paying; consumer protection groups recommend not pre-paying.
Rental Casket: A nice looking casket rented by the mortuary for a viewing or funeral. One of the ends of the casket is hinged or removed so that after the event the body can be transferred to a more modest casket or container for the cremation or burial.
Sealed: An old term used to refer to a gasketed (metal) casket.
Shroud: Fabric cloth or sheet that is wrapped around the deceased for burial. Often shrouds have a built-in rigid board for carrying or are carried on a shrouding board.
Spot Welded: When the edges of a metal casket are welded together, but the metal is not continuously welded along the side and the bottom.
Transporter or Air container: A corrugated or plywood casket used for shipping a body. They can also be used for burial or cremation.
Undertaker: See mortician.
Urn: A container to hold cremated remains. It can be placed in a columbarium or mausoleum, or buried in the ground.
Vault: A grave liner that completely encloses a casket. There are various types, materials and prices. A cemetery or mortuary likely only offers a few of the ones available to them.
Viewing: Sometimes referred to as calling hours, reviewal, or funeral visitation, a viewing is the time that the family and friends come to see the deceased after they have been prepared by a funeral home.
Wake: A period of keeping watch or vigil with the body of the deceased that may involve prayer, music, reading, storytelling or other rituals and family traditions; derived from a time when witnesses stayed by the body to be certain the person did not “wake up.”