Glossary of Terms
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”
Autopsy- 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.