If you’re not an expert in the field of funeral planning, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by jargon and industry-specific terms. But if you’re creating an end-of-life plan for yourself or arranging a loved one’s funeral, it’s important to know the meaning of those terms.
Here are some of the most common (and some of the most confusing) funeral terms you’ll come across, along with easy-to-understand definitions.
1. Advance funeral planning
Also known as “preplanning,” advance funeral planning is the process of planning your own funeral ahead of time.
Advance funeral planning can help you ensure that your funeral goes exactly how you want it to. It can also help your family have an easier time arranging your memorial and burial.
Aftercare is a kind of program that provides support to family and community members after a death. Aftercare is often an extension of the services offered by a funeral home, but it could take place there or elsewhere.
Other organizations offer aftercare, too. For example, many schools provide counseling sessions to students who have lost a peer.
The bier, or “catafalque,” is the stand on which a casket sits before the burial. For Christian funerals and many other traditional funerals, the bier sits at the front of the church or funeral home throughout the funeral.
4. Casket bearer
Casket bearers, also known as “pallbearers,” are the close family members and friends chosen to carry a casket.
They often take the casket to the front of the venue for viewing and to the hearse for transport to the burial site.
5. Cemetery services
In addition to the costs of the funeral itself, there are costs associated with burial at a cemetery.
Those costs are for cemetery services, which include opening and closing the grave, installing grave liners and vaults, and placing grave markers. Cemetery services can also include long-term maintenance of a grave.
6. Committal service
You don’t necessarily have to have a funeral in a church or a funeral home. Some funerals take place at the burial site itself. This type of funeral, typically held just before burial, is called a committal service.
7. Direct disposition
Direct disposition includes options like direct burial and direct cremation. This is a funeral-related term that you might come across if you’re considering forgoing a funeral altogether.
Direct disposition involves burying or cremating the deceased directly, without holding a funeral or memorial first. You can always hold a memorial service afterward.
8. Endowment care fund
An endowment care fund is a sum of money you and your family can pay to a cemetery for the ongoing maintenance of the grave.
Epitaphs are short quotes or passages inscribed into grave markers and headstones. They’re usually paired with the deceased’s date of birth and date of death.
A eulogy is a type of speech you might give at a loved one’s funeral. A eulogy can feature poetry or religious passages, or you can simply speak from the heart.
Many funerals feature multiple eulogies throughout the service. Here are some eulogy examples to help you better understand.
11. Family room
A family room is a space at the funeral home or funeral venue that’s set aside for the grieving family.
Before, during, and after the funeral service, family members can retreat to the family room to gather their thoughts, grieve together, and find privacy.
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12. Final rites
“Final rites” is another term for a funeral. In the religion of Catholicism, “Last Rites” are words of prayer given to individuals of the faith shortly before death.
But “final rites” or “funeral rites” refer simply to the words of farewell that are often given as part of a funeral or burial.
13. Funeral Rule
The Funeral Rule is a Federal Trade Commission regulation, established in 1984, that protects consumers’ rites regarding funeral pricing.
The Funeral Rule makes it possible for you to only choose the goods and services that you want or need. You can learn more about the Funeral Rule and the associated General Price List on the FTC website.
14. Green burial
A green burial is essentially what it sounds like (although it has little to do with the color green.) Green burials are natural, and they involve more earth-friendly materials.
A green burial typically features a casket made of wicker or biodegradable bamboo, and the body usually won’t be treated with chemicals beforehand.
A hearse is a special vehicle that’s designed to safely carry caskets to and from the funeral venue and burial location.
Hearse drivers and operators take particular care to secure a body within the vehicle to avoid any potential for damage. A hearse will also often lead the funeral procession (see procession below).
Interment is a technical term that refers to burial. When you inter a loved one, you’re simply burying them—usually in a casket in a cemetery. Interment can also refer to burial in a tomb.
Inurnment is different from internment. Instead of referring to burial, “inurnment” refers to the placement of cremated remains in an urn or another container.
A memorial service is similar to a funeral service in many ways. The main difference between a funeral and a memorial service is that memorials are often held after burial or cremation.
You can also hold additional memorial services to remember a loved one, even if you had a funeral immediately after their death.
The mortuary is the funeral parlor or morgue where a body is stored before the funeral. A mortuary can be located at a funeral home, where the funeral takes place.
Hospitals also have mortuaries or morgues, typically underground in the basement.
The officiant of a funeral is the person who leads the service. For funerals that take place in churches, the officiant is usually a priest or another religious leader. If you’re holding a funeral in a funeral home, you may hire an officiant to lead the service.
21. Opening and closing fees
This term is similar to “cemetery services,” as described above. However, “opening and closing fees” refers specifically to the cost of digging the grave and filling the grave back in.
If you’re planning a funeral that involves a burial, too, you’ll need to take the opening and closing fees into account.
22. Prearranged funeral trust
A prearranged funeral trust is a fund you can open to pay for your own—or a loved one’s—funeral costs.
Many people choose to open a funeral trust for their own funerals, in order to spare family members the cost.
23. Preparation room
The preparation room is the room in a funeral home where a body is prepared for the funeral.
Preparation includes embalming, changing the clothes and applying cosmetics (if you’re holding an open-casket funeral or viewing), and placing the body inside the casket.
A funeral procession is the group of family, friends, and community members who attended the funeral and then “proceed” to the burial.
Some processions take place on foot (when the cemetery is close by), while others are by car.
25. Register book
A register book displayed in a front room of the funeral venue, where attendees can sign their names and pay respect to the deceased. The family often takes the book home so that they can read what people have written.
26. Selection room
A selection room is the part of a funeral home or crematory where the available goods (like urns and caskets) are displayed.
When you arrange a funeral through a funeral home, the director will usually take you to a selection room to select which goods and services you’d like.
27. Statement of funeral goods and services
Speaking of goods and services: a statement of funeral goods and services is a list of everything you’ve decided to purchase for the funeral.
28. Transit permit
If you’re transporting the deceased a long distance, you might need a transit permit from the government. The most common reason for needed a transit permit to transport a body is if you’re crossing state lines.
Visitation is the time when family and friends have the opportunity to view the body and say one last goodbye.
Visitation is also known as the “viewing,” and it often takes place in a designated “viewing room.”
“Wake” is another word for visitation or viewing. However, some people also use the word “wake” when speaking about the gathering held after a funeral.
This gathering—which usually takes place at a family home and features a buffet-style meal—is actually called a reception.
Planning a Funeral
Having as much information about funerals as possible can help you along your journey to plan a funeral.
Whether you’re preplanning your own memorial or putting together a funeral service for a loved one, vocabulary is important.
With the descriptions provided above, you can create your ideal end-of-life plan or a funeral that best suits your beloved family member.
- “Funeral Terms and Contact Information.” Federal Trade Commission. www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0306-funeral-terms-and-contact-information#glossary
- “Terms used to describe cemeteries and grave markers.” IN.gov. www.in.gov/dnr/historic/files/cem_glossary.pdf
- “Glossary of Funeral Service Terms.” National Funeral Directors Association. www.nfda.org/consumer-resources/glossary-of-funeral-service-terms
- “The FTC Funeral Rule.” Federal Trade Commission. www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0300-ftc-funeral-rule