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Symbolism on Tombstones

See also death dictionary

Arches= Victory in Death
Arrows= Mortality
Bouquets/Flowers= Condolences, grief, sorrow
Buds/Rosebud= Morning of Life or Renewal of Life
Roses= Brevity of earthly existence
Portals= Passageway to eternal journey
Bugles= Resurrection and the Military
Crossed Swords= High-ranking military person
Flying Birds= Flight of the Soul
Fruits = Eternal plenty
Garlands = Victory in death
Imps= Mortality
Shells= Pilgrimage of Life
Thistles= Remembrance
Tombs= Mortality
Trees= Life
Trumpeters= Heralds of the Resurrection
Willows= Earthly Sorrow
Morning Glory= Beginning of Life
Butterfly= Short-lived; Early Death
Full-Blown Rose= Prime of Life
Palm Branch= Signifies Victory and Rejoicing
Ivy= Friendship and Immortality
Laurel= Fame or Victory
Oak Leaves & Acorn= Maturity, Ripe Old Age
Weeping Willow= Emblem of Sorrow
Corn= Ripe Old Age
Sheaf of Wheat= Ripe for Harvest, Divine Harvest, Time
Poppy= Sleep
Lamb= Innocence
Dove= Innocence, Gentleness, Affection, Purity
Cherub= Angelic
Cross= Emblem of Faith
Anchor/Ships= Hope or Seafaring profession
Broken Ring= Family Circle Severed
Broken Column= Loss of Head of Family
Torch Inverted= Life Extinct
Urn with Blaze = Undying Friendship
Harp= Praise to the Maker
Handshakes= Farewell
Hearts= Soul in Bliss or Love of Christ
Horns= The Resurrection
Hourglass= Swiftness of Time
Open Book/ Bible= Deceased Teacher, Minister, etc.
Lily or Lily of Valley= Emblem of Innocence and Purity
Tree Stump w/Ivy= Head of Family; Immortality
Urn with /Wreath or Crepe-- Mourning
Stars & Stripes Around Eagle= Eternal Vigilance, Liberty
Hourglass w/Wings of Time= Time Flying; Short Life
Candle being Snuffed= Time, mortality
Coffin, Father Time, Picks/Shovels, Darts= Mortality
Hand of God Chopping= Sudden Death
Winged Effigies= Flight of the Soul

Death Dictionary

accessory chemicals Chemicals used along with regular embalming fluids such as preservatives, sealers, hardeners.

adipocere Also known as grave wax. A cheese-like, grayish substance that may result from a corpse left in cool moist soil or water.

advance directives Documents such as "Do Not Resuscitate" and Living Wills

airtray Container used for shipping caskets or bodies by air.

algor mortis Cooling of the body after death.

On The realm of death to the Toda people of Southern India, ruled by their creator god On. 

anatomical gifts Organ donations.

antemortem Before death.

apoptosis The death of cells as a function of their intrinsic mechanisms. 

arrangement conference Initial meeting between funeral director and customer. 

arterial preservative Chemical used by embalmers to replace blood.

ashes Burned remains from cremation.

autolysis The breakdown of the corpse by the body's digestive enzymes.

autopsy From the Greek for to see for one's self, it is a medical procedure conducted following a death to determine it's cause through examination of the various body parts. Also called a necropsy. 

barrow Mound of stones or dirt on top of grave.

"belly punchers" Derogatory term for those who use trocars to inject embalming fluids into cavities from others in the industry. 

bequeath To give via a will, to pass on.

bereave To leave alone, as by death. Also to take by force.

bi-unit pricing The now illegal in the US process of charging a separate price for casket and funeral services.

bier Stand for corpse prior to burial and for transportation to the grave. Called a coffin in Scotland.

black The traditional color of mourning, though in some countries the color is white.

black death The bubonic plague, responsible for widespread death in 14th century Europe. 

bleaching agent Chemical used to lighten skin before cosmetics are applied to remove blemishes on corpse.

body Euphemism for corpse.

bog bodies Bodies that are naturally mummified in peat bogs.

brain death A condition that results when the brain ceases to be conscious and the body operates only as a result of mechanical assistance. There are no brainwaves, movements, or responses to stimuli. 

burial To place in the ground, sea, tomb. To hide. 

burial chest Antiquated term for a casket. 

burial chamber A repository for corpses.

burial mound A mound resulting from dirt piled upon a corpse.

burial-transport permit Document allowing burial or cremation and transport of body.

burial vault These are more expensive versions of grave liners, made of copper or steel instead of concrete. They are used to keep the grave from subsiding. They also allow additional (vertical) storage space.

cadaver Corpse.

cadaver carrier Tool used to move corpses to morgue from hospitals.

cairn A mound of stones serving as memorial or marker. 

calcination Cremation from heat rather than flames.

call Industry term for funeral.

cannibalism Eating one's own species. Also called necrophagia.

cannula Tool for injecting embalming fluid in arteries.

canopic jars Containers for organs or ashes.

capillary flush Rosy cheeks resulting from embalming.

capital punishment The use of execution as the consequence of a crime.

case Industry term for funeral.

casket A rectangular coffin. Also a small case for jewels or valuables and a verb for enclosing. 

catacomb An underground cemetery, with chambers or tunnels having places for graves. 

catafalque Also known as a casket standard. Structure on which corpse is carried. 

cavity embalming The use of cavity fluid to replace internal fluids in the abdomen.

cemetery A final resting place for corpses, a graveyard. 

cenotaph  From Greek for empty tomb. A monument in honor of a dead person who is buried somewhere else.

cerecloth Fabric used to cover corpse soaked in adhesive to hold it close. 

certificate of disposition Document issued permitting burial or cremation. 

charnel (house) A place for storing bones or corpses. 

chin rest Tool for keep mouth of corpse closed. 

cinerarium Place for storing ashes, kept in cinerary jars. 

coffin The box in which bodies are laid to rest. Also the part of a horse hoof. 

columbarium A vault with niches for urns containing the ashes of those who have been cremated, or one of the niches themselves. Also a raised structure with compartments for domesticated pigeons. 

committal chamber Entrace to crematorium. 

concurrent drainage Removing blood while at the same time adding embalming fluid. 

coroner The public official who mainly investigates any suspicious deaths. 

corpse A dead body. (from the same body root that led to words like midriff, corporal, corporate) 

corpsicle Tactless term for cryonically preserved body. 

cortege Funeral procession. 

cranial embalming Embalming the inside of the skull via the nose.

cremation chamber Actual room where cremation to take place.

cremation society A memorial or burial group focusing on cremations.

cremation Burning a corpse into ashes. 

crematorium A place for the incineration of corpses. Also called pathological incinerators.

cryogenics Also call cryogeny. The study of low temperatures and their production - now being applied to cryonics, the goal of preserving humans through cryonic suspension or cryonic status until a time when they can be resuscitated. Such reanimates are called cryonauts in some science fiction. 

crypt An underground vault used as for burial, especially under a church. Also a small pit or glandular cavity in the body.

Day of the Dead A holiday celebrating the dead in Mexico. 

dead No longer living. 

deanimate Die. Counteracted by post-cryonic reanimation. 

descansos Roadside crosses, as those erected when there is a car accident. 

death The cessation of life. What exactly that is subject to debate. 

death angel A poisonous white mushroom, also called death cup. 

death benefit Money paid by life insurance. 

death camas Grass like plant poisonous to livestock. 

death care industry Name used by the funeral industry for itself.

death certificate A document proclaiming the death of an individual and the conditions of the departure.

death duty Tax on inherited property, called also inheritance tax, estate tax or death tax. 

death knell Something announcing death, as of the church bells of yore. 

death mask Cast made of face after death, used in ancient Rome by actors to play the dead and by Europeans to adorn the buried corpse. Madame Tussaud of Wax Museum fame started out making death masks of those killed by the guillotine during the French Revolution.

death notice Paid announcement of death. 

death penalty Another name for capital punishment 

death point Level of an environmental factor beyond which a species can no longer survive. 

death qualify A legal term for excusing those opposed to the death penalty from serving on a jury. 

death rattle Noise made by dying person as breath passes through mucus when the cough reflex is lost. 

death row The place where condemned criminals await their execution. Also called death house. 

death toll The cost in lives of a given event, from disease outbreak to military campaign. 

death warrant Document authorizing execution. Also a destructive incident - deathblow. 

death's head The human skull, a symbol of death. 

decapitate Remove the head of. Behead. 

decedent Dead person. 

decomposition The breakdown of the body after death. 

deceased Dead. Other synonyms suggest a journey or departure (passed away, passed on, no longer with us). 

dental tie A way of keeping the mouth on a corpse closed. 

dewar Chamber for storing cryogenically-preserved bodies. 

die Stop living. 

direct burial Burial without viewing or embalming, also called immediate burial. 

dirge Mournful musical composition, poem, or other work. 

disembowel To remove the entrails from. Also remove meaning.

DNR An order to not resuscitate in the event of failure of breathing or heart. CPR will not be initiated. 

doedkammers Parlors built by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the American colonies to have funerals, with doors large enough to accommodate the pallbearers.

draw and quarter Execute by tying the four limbs of a person to horses and having them run in opposite directions, or mutilating a corpse after hanging.

electric chair First used in 1890 in New York, it took eight minutes to kill a person via electricity. Benjamin Franklin experimented with the process earlier to see how much electricitiy it took to kill a monkey.

elegy Poem mourning someone or something that has been lost.

embalm To preserve to prevent decay, to protect, to perfume. 

embalmer Person who embalms corpses.

embalmer's gray The gray that poor positioning causes from blood moving into the head in a corpse.

embalming powder Dry substance used to preserve surface.

embalmment An old method of preservation involving replacement of organs with chemicals and dehydration.

en bloc Latin for in a group. A way to remove a whole group of organs during an autopsy so that their relative positions can be preserved.

en situ Latin for in location. A way to look at organs still in the body during autopsy.

entomb To place in or serve as a tomb or grave.

epitaph An inscription on a tombstone or a short literary piece to remember a deceased person. 

eschatology Branch of theology dealing with the end of man or the world. Belief concerning final things. 

eulogy A speech of praise, usually given after someone has died. 

euthanasia From the Greek for good death, it is the mercy killing of someone with terminal or incurable disease, a coup de grace. 

excarnation The use of animals to dispose of human remains or to strip off flesh.

exhume To remove from a grave (disinter). Or to expose. The fist burial is called a primary burial, and the second is called secondary and in some cases may involve additional ritual. 

fatal Causing death. Deadly. Lethal.

fatality Death

firing squad A method of execution where a person is faced with an array of people with guns who all shoot at once, utilized especially by militaries. 

floaters Corpses in water that have developed sufficient gas in them to rise to the surface.

flower death The good death wished for by Aztecs in fighting.

forensic pathologist Pathologist who produces medical information for the legal profession. Something combining both professions is called medicolegal.

formaldehyde gray Gray color resulting from the preservative formaldehyde's interaction with blood's hemoglobin. Formaldehyde is present in embalming fluid.

formalin Tissue preservative used by pathologists, containing formaldehyde and water. 

fratricide The killing of one's brother.

functional pricing Itemizing the bill for a funeral. Also called multi-unit pricing (as opposed to single-unit or tri-unit). Required by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission

funeral Ceremony or procession held in conjunction with burial. Also an end, a eulogy, a sermon, a source of concern, or resembling a funeral. 

funeral chapel A place for having funerals. 

funeral director Person responsible for burial or cremation and often the embalming, as well as aiding in the funeral ceremony. 

funeral home A place for dealing with dead bodies, viewing and funeral services. 

funeral lighting Illumination of body in casket.

funeral procession A parade with a corpse following a funeral. 

gas chamber A method of execution where lethal gas is pumped into a chamber containing victims. When first used in response to the inadequacy of the electric chair in the United States, deaths took anywhere from 2 to 11 minutes. A mass form of this utilized Zyklon B during the Holocaust in purported showers.

genocide Systematic extermination of nation, race, or political or ethnic group. 

ghost The spirit of a dead person returning. 

gibbet A cage for corpses of criminals to be displayed until they rotted, as well as a gallows. 

grave A place of burial, especially the excavation itself. Also death itself, to stamp, to clean and coat with tar, an adjective meaning serious, slow, somber. 

grave liner See burial vault

grave marker Something placed in remembrance of the dead at the grave. 

grave robber Those who rob graves, either for the corpses to sell to science or for the goods a person may be buried with, as was the case with the Egyptian pyramids. 

gravestone A stone placed on a grave to mark it, often bearing an inscription listing years of birth and death, name, and perhaps an epitaph. 

grief From the same root as grave, aggravate, baritone. Mental anguish, annoyance, regret, trouble, grievance. 

grief counselor A newly created position to help people through their pain following a death.

grief therapist Industry term for a mortician.

Grim Reaper A mythological figure representing death, a skeleton carrying a scythe with which he harvests lives. 

hanging A method of execution where a hangman's noose is put around a persons neck and the person is raised from the ground, either via suspension from a tree or a drop away floor on a gibbet or gallows. To string up. 

hardening compound Stuff used to make tissues solid in a corpse by embalmers. 

head freeze Putting strong embalming fluid at high pressure into the head and neck to preserve without swelling. Also called instant tissue fixation. 

head rest Device used to keep head in place when embalming. 

headstone A stone set at the head of a grave. Also the central wedge part of an arch in architecture that holds it together. 

hearse A vehicle for the transportation of corpses from funeral to burial. 

heart tap Putting embalming fluid right into the heart via injection. 

hermetically sealed Almost completely airtight - with caskets it prevents the release of smells.

homicide The killing of a person by another person, or the person who does so. 

humectant Chemical used to counter dehydration in corpses. 

hypodermic embalming Injecting embalming fluids into various body parts. 

Hyperboreans Creatures of Greek myth who lived to be a thousand. 

hypostasis Also called livor mortis, this is the movement of blood to the lower parts of the body, where it is need most. 

immortal Not dying, not forgotten. Relating to immortality, indefinitely growing. 

immurement To entomb in walls. 

inhumation Burial. 

interment Burial. 

intermittent tissue drainage Only draining fluid occasionally during embalming so that pressure causes movement to smaller vessels.

inurnment Putting ashes into an urn.

kneeler A stool to kneel on. One may be placed next to a casket.

last rites Christian sacrament or ritual performed for a dying person. Also called the rite of committal. 

lethal injection A method of execution used in capital punishment first utilized in Texas in 1976. Chemicals injected via IV dull the senses, relax muscles to stop breathing and then cause the heart to stop. It is the most popular method today.

lie in state To put a prominent corpse on review for the public.

living will A will that asks to not be kept alive by life support. 

lynch To execute without trial, especially hang. 

martyr One who dies for a cause. 

mausoleum Large, elaborate tomb or the building holding these types of tombs. Also a gloomy building. From Persian satrap. 

medical examiner A forensic pathologist working for the government who looks into unexplained deaths. 

memento mori Latin for "remember thy death." A movement in the 1000's to remind people that they must be pious to allow for a good afterlife. 

memorial  Something intended to remember a person or event. Also a statement of facts presented to rulers or something related to memory.

memorial niche Place where urn stays. 

memorial service Life a funeral, except not in the presence of the body. 

memorial society Group providing inexpensive funerals. 

memory picture The way the body is presented following embalming.

monument From the same root as mind, monster, money, mosaic (to think). A building or sculpture of memorial. Also a tombstone, something of historical significance, outstanding achievement, written document, marker of boundary. 

morbid Of or relating to disease, unwholesome, gruesome. 

Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report Flagship publication of the Centers for Disease Control detailing information about recent deaths. 

morgue A place to store bodies until identification or funeral. Also a reference file in periodical office. 

moribund Approaching death. Also on the verge of obsolescence. 

mortal Subject to death. Also human, related to or causing death, intense. 

mortality Being mortal. Also death, death rate. 

mortcloth Reusable cloth, especially in Scotland, to cover body or coffin. 

mortician Synonym for funeral director.

mortuary A place to store corpses before burial, from mortuarie, a Middle English word for a gift from the deceased's estate to the parish priest, from Latin mortuarium, a receptacle for dead things, from word for to die. 

Mot From the primal beliefs that led to Judaism, the god of death and sterility opposed to Baal, a god of life.

multiple cremations Cremating several bodies at once. 

multiple-site injection Embalming performed at various sites concurrently. 

mummy A body that has been embalmed so as to be preserved. From mummy, a medicine from embalmed corpses, from Arabic word for wax. 

muscular suture Keeping a corpse's mouth closed by tying the lower lip to the inner nose. 

necrobiosis Decay or death. 

necrogenic Resulting from corpses. 

necrogeneous Growing on dead tissue. 

necrolatry Worshipping corpses. 

necrophagous Feeding on corpses. 

necrophilia Obsession with death. Erotic attraction to corpses. 

necrophilous Fungi or beetle (as the family Necrophagaus of Clavicron beetles) that feeds on the dead. 

necrophobia Excessive fear of death or corpses. 

necropolis A cemetery, especially a large, extensive one in an ancient city or a city of the dead. 

necrosis Tissue death.

neomort Brain dead bodies kept alive by machine. 

neurosuspension Cryonic preservation of brains, usually still in the head. As opposed to whole-body suspension. 

obituary Announcement of death in news. 

organ and tissue donation An option for the parts of a corpse. An organ bank will coordinate the placement of organ or tissue donor's body parts with suitable recipients. The United Network for Organ Sharing coordinates such efforts in the United States. 

ossuary A container for the remains of the dead. 

overlap A way to keep a corpse's eyes closed by putting the top lid over the bottom one. 

pall Covering on casket during funeral or the coffin itself (i.e. pall bearers). Also something that obscures or dulls. 

pandemic A widespread epidemic. Also widespread, an epidemic disease. Prominent epidemics past and future include the plague, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. 

past lives Existences one has had prior to the present one, according to the doctrine of reincarnation. 

pathologist Study of disease, the manifestation of disease, departure from normality.

patricide The killing of one's father.

perpetual care Guarantee of eternal cemetery upkeep. 

pet cemetery A place for the burial of dead pets. 

plagium Body-snatching. 

plastination A way to preserve dissected specimens after death. 

posthumous After death. 

postmortem After death. 

postmortem stain Discoloration from blood color seeping into skin. 

preparation room Embalming room. 

pulverization Grinding of bone fragments after cremation, also called processing. 

putrefaction Destruction of corpse by own bacteria. 

pyre A pile of things to burn a corpse on. 

relics An object kept for religious reasons, especially a body part of personal effect of a saint. Also something preserved from the past, a corpse. 

reliquary A container for holding relics. 

remains Body parts left following death. 

requiem A musical composition for the All Saint's Day mass. 

restorative art Industry term for embalmers and other cosmeticians who make body look restored.

resuscitate Bring back to life.

rigor mortis The stiffening of the body that sets in after a corpse has been dead for a while. 

sacrifice Offering something to a deity to gain good favor, especially a slaughtered human or animal, the thing given, or the act of doing so. Also something traded for something else. 

sarcophagus A stone coffin, often decorated

sťance A meeting to receive spiritual messages, as from a deceased spirit. 

sepulcher A burial vault, a place to store relics in an altar, to place in such a location. 

sepulture Burial or a sepulcher. 

shell embalming Preserving over the outer shell. 

shroud Cloth used to wrap body when buried. Also to wrap, to shut off, to (find) shelter, a screen, and ropes used to support a mast or smokestack. 

skull cap Part of the skull removed to allow access to the brain.

slip coffins Coffins with floors that can come off, leaving the body behind, so that they can be used again.

soul Similar to the spirit.

spirit What gives life to something, essence.

stele A commemorative stone inscribed or sculpture as a monument or in the face of a building. Also the central vascular tissue in a plant.

suicide The killing of one's self. 

suttee The act of a woman placing herself on her husband's pyre, or the women who commits such an act. Made illegal by Britain in 1829. 

thanatology The study of social and psychological aspects of death and dying, as practiced by thanatologists. 

thanatomimesis Pretending to be dead. 

throat cutter Term for arterial embalmers from those who use other methods because the neck had to be cut to expose vessels.

tomb  From the same toot as thigh, thousand, tumor (to swell). A grave, a burial vault, or a monument.

tombstone See gravestone. Also a city in southwest Arizona.

toning compound A dark color that is mixed with a brighter fundamental color gives a corpse a lifelike appearance.

trocar Long-needled instrument inserted in the body along imaginary trocar guides for removing body fluids and replacing with embalming fluid. The hole is closed with a plastic screw called a trocar button.

tumulus Burial mound or barrow.

undertaker See funeral director. Also one who takes on a task.

urn Container for ashes of a person who has been cremated.

viewing American Christian custom where the corpse is seen and family visited.

wake Watch over a dead person before they are buried, sometimes festive. Also a watch, a festival in honor of a patron saint, an annual vacation, to make aware of, to rouse, to watch, to stop sleeping. Also known as a vigil. 

will A legal document directing the dispersion of possessions after death. Also to choose, to order, the ability to choose, purposefulness. 

winding sheet A sheet to hold body before funeral, tied at both ends, sometimes exposing head.



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