What Are Things Called?

Some basic definitions

What kinds of services are there (and when are they)? 
  • Funeral: The body is present. As a result, the service happens within a few days of death.
  • Memorial service:  The body is not present. The ashes may or may not be present. The service happens any time from a couple of days after death to several months later. The timing can allow for the presence of all the loved ones who can come. The timing can also allow for weather accommodation.
  • Celebration of life: The body may or may not be present. The ashes may or may not be present. It’s a gathering with the focus on celebration: “He wouldn’t want us to be sad. It will be a celebration of his life and God’s work.” But it may simply be another name for the service.
  • Graveside service: Happens at a cemetery, immediately before the body or ashes are placed in the ground or in a mausoleum. Sometimes the graveside service follows the funeral or memorial service, sometimes it is instead of a funeral. Sometimes it’s private, just for family. Sometimes it’s weeks after the service.

What are people called?

  • The body: When it was breathing, we called the body “Jim”. Now we call it the body or the corpse or the decedent or the deceased or the dearly departed or any of many other terms of affection, neutrality, or anger. Find a word you are comfortable with for all your interactions that are professional or logistical. But with the family, you can still call the body “Jim” or “Jim’s body.”
  • Family: Family can be biological. Family can be legal. Family can be the people you spend your life with. And the lines are not at all clear. A friend can be “like a brother” but the biological brother may or may not recognize that. Although legal documents have to worry about legal lines, you get to pay attention to relationship lines. So be generous with what the person believed about family.
  • Funeral director: The primary representative from the funeral home is the funeral director. This person meets with the family to plan the timing and the arrangements for the disposition of the body. They will coordinate everything about the experience other than the content and order of the service and the graveside service.
  • Pallbearers: These are the people who carry the casket from the service to the hearse and from the hearse to the grave. Usually, there is a cart that is under the casket so that the actual lifting is minimal. But sometimes, they need to be strong enough to carry the casket up steps.[1]
What do we call the containers?
  • Casket:  Shaped like a rectangular box.
  • Coffin: Shaped with six sides like an old-fashioned Western movie.
  • Urn: a holder for cremains, the ashes. May also be a wooden box or other container.
Should the casket be open or closed?
  • Casket open during visitation and funeral: This can be distracting for some people during the service. Other people aren’t ready to say goodbye for the last time until after the service.
  • Casket open during visitation and then closed during the service: This can help people focus on the service. And it may be easier for kids.
  • Casket closed during all public events: Some families don’t want to have to see the body. Some people don’t want their bodies stared at. Some bodies have been damaged in the process of dying.

What do we call the visiting time before the service?

  • Showing, Viewing, Calling Hours, Funeral Calling, Visitation:  A time for people to visit the family, most often with the body present. It usually happens the hour or two before the service, and can happen for a few hours the day before the service. If there aren’t many people likely to attend, the visitation may be just for the hour before the service.

A couple helpful notes:

    • An announcement about the calling can say, “Visitation for ___ will be Tuesday, November 19, 2022 from 3:00-5:00 pm and 6:00 – 8:00 pm at City Funeral Home. Funeral service will be on Wednesday, November 20, 2022 at 2:00 pm in the Chapel of City Funeral Home.”
    • If the time for calling will be long, it’s helpful to have a break for the family to eat. At the very least, have water and food and tissues available. Having stools or tall chairs for older family members can also be helpful.


  1. I know of a church that installed an elevator to help with accessability for the second floor, where the sanctuary was. Unfortunately, they didn't make sure that a casket would fit in the new elevator. So pallbearers continued to have to carry caskets up a half-flight of steps outside the church and a half-flight inside the side-door.


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