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Woman kneeling in front of a slant or bevel grave marker

Quick Guide: Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

By Cemeteries, Explore Options

As human beings, we have an innate desire to remember and be remembered. This is one reason why permanent memorials, such as grave markers and memorial plaques, are so important. They provide a place for family and friends to reflect on and remember a loved one’s life and legacy. Permanent memorials also give future generations a place to anchor themselves to the past and discover their own roots.

Young man and woman wearing black and visiting a loved one's grave

If you are planning for burial, you may have questions about selecting and installing a grave marker. Below are some suggestions to keep in mind as you consider what type of permanent memorial best fits your specific needs. Please note – both caskets and urns can be buried, so even if you choose cremation, a permanent memorial is something to consider.

Look into the specific guidelines and regulations of your cemetery

Before deciding on the material and style of a grave marker, speak with your chosen cemetery. Some cemeteries have certain restrictions about what they do and do not allow. For example, space limitations may prohibit a large grave marker, or they may require a flat plaque to make ground maintenance easier. Contact the cemetery to determine if they have any rules or regulations regarding permanent memorials.

Woman kneeling in front of a slant or bevel grave marker

Select the type of grave marker

When choosing a grave marker, the first thing you will need to select is a type. The grave marker you choose is based on personal preference, unless you must adhere to cemetery regulations.

Here are some common options to consider:

  • Footstone – Generally made of marble, this marker is located at the foot of the grave.
  • Upright Headstone – The traditional style of marker that sits tall in the ground.
  • Flat Marker – Lies flush with the ground and has a minimalist design.
  • Slant Marker – Similar to a flat marker but taller with an upward slant to make reading the inscription easier. Also includes a minimalist design.
  • Bevel Marker – Looks a bit like a pillow; slightly raised off the ground, slanting downwards from the back to the front.
  • Niche Marker – Usually found in a mausoleum, this plaque attaches to the wall outside a niche.
  • Ledger Stone – A large stone that covers the entire space above a grave.

Mature man sitting next to a ledger stone in a cemetery

Choose the grave marker material

In addition to choosing a type of grave marker, you will also need to choose a material. Some grave markers only come in specific materials, so be sure to speak with the monument company about your options.

The following are some common materials to choose from:

  • Granite – Known for its durability, this is a very popular choice. Over the years, granite has become increasingly affordable and is now one of the less expensive options.
  • Marble – Often chosen for aesthetic reasons, marble is a beautiful, smooth material. Unfortunately, it also weathers easily, so the inscription may eventually fade.
  • Stainless Steel – A newer type of grave marker, stainless steel is less susceptible to weathering than most other materials.
  • Bronze – A sturdy and aesthetically pleasing choice, bronze requires very little upkeep. However, it is a more expensive option.
  • Limestone – A traditional, elegant material, limestone is visually pleasing but weak. The softness of this material makes it particularly vulnerable to environmental decay.

Customizing a grave marker with an etched image

Consider adding custom elements to the grave marker

Depending on your chosen cemetery, you may have the option to customize a loved one’s grave marker. This could include adding a photo, personalizing the inscription, or choosing a custom shape, like a heart or a book. You will partner with a monument company to design a loved one’s grave marker, so during that consultation, ask about your custom options and see if anything appeals to you as a way to honor your loved one’s memory. Click here for more information abut personalizing grave markers.

Ask about the cemetery’s installation services

Because installing a grave marker takes skill and knowledge, cemeteries often offer installation services. When you speak with the cemetery personnel, ask about the installation fee and how much it is. In the off chance that they don’t offer installation services, you can pay a local monument installer to set it for you. The cemetery can direct you to a trusted local installer.

Row of veteran grave stones with American flags planted beside each one

Look into your headstone options as a veteran

If you are an eligible veteran or veteran dependent (like a spouse), the Department of Veterans Affairs will provide a free headstone or appropriate marker for your grave. To receive a government-issued headstone, a veteran can be buried in a national cemetery, a state veterans cemetery, a military post or base cemetery, or a private cemetery.

However, a veteran’s dependents aren’t eligible to receive a free headstone if they are buried in a private cemetery. Installation fees at a private cemetery may still apply.

To learn more about your grave marker options with the Department of Veterans Affairs, visit their website.

Get creative with green or natural grave markers

If your family is interested in green or natural burial, you may want to consider planting a tree or a shrub at the gravesite. This option is environmentally friendly and could be particularly meaningful if the deceased was fond of nature. Some green or natural cemeteries will allow you to place a small, flat stone as a marker, but they do not allow the use of standard grave markers. To learn more about green or natural burial, click here.

Wooden heart grave marker resting on a moss-covered tree in a green cemetery

Plan ahead for cemetery needs

After the loss of a loved one, families are often distracted from their grief by all the decisions that must be made. By planning ahead, you can remove many of these funeral planning obstacles ahead of time. Talk to your loved ones about your preferences in advance or work with a local funeral home and cemetery to outline your wishes. When they don’t know a loved one’s preferences, many families agonize over whether or not they made the right funeral choices. With a little advance preparation, you can make a difficult time easier for your surviving family members.

If you have more questions about selecting or installing a grave marker, reach out to your chosen cemetery. They will answer your questions and help you understand your options.

woman with cleaning gloves using a brush to clean a headstone

How to Clean a Headstone in 6 Steps

By Cemeteries

A headstone or grave marker is a special place where your family and friends can remember and honor your loved one’s memory. But because most monuments are outside, it’s easy for dirt, plants, or moss to build up and damage the headstone.

But how do you clean a headstone? You may need to consult a restoration expert if a monument is old or damaged. In many cases, though, you can clean a monument yourself as long as you take certain precautions. Follow these 6 steps to clean your loved one’s headstone properly so your family can visit them and honor their memory for years!

1. Make Sure You Have Permission

person wiping a headstone with a white cloth
First, you’ll need to make sure you have permission. Some cemeteries may have specific rules and regulations about cleaning headstones, especially those that take care of maintenance themselvesGreen or natural cemeteries that allow grave markers will likely prohibit certain chemicals and cleaning products.

Additionally, government-issued headstones for veterans are still considered government property and can only be cleaned following the VA’s cleaning guidelines. Historical and preservation societies also have specific policies regarding how older headstones should be cleaned.

You should also only clean the headstones of your loved ones or those you have explicit permission to clean. While cleaning someone else’s headstone might be a nice gesture, some people may see it as an invasion rather than a help. Plus, you would be liable for any damage to the headstone.

2. Check the Headstone for Damage

Cross-shaped headstone fallen over and broken in several places
Before you clean the headstone, you’ll need to ensure it’s in good condition. If the headstone sounds hollow or is cracking, chipping, flaking, or powdery, even gentle cleaning could further damage the marker. Plus, if the grave marker seems unstable (shifting, wobbling, or leaning), cleaning increases the chances that the headstone could fall.

If the headstone you want to clean is damaged, consult a headstone preservationist to get professional help repairing the headstone. That way, the marker will be fixed properly and can stand for generations to come.

3. Pay Attention to the Headstone Material

variety of headstones and grave markers of different materials
The material of the headstone you’re cleaning will affect the products and cleaning strategies you can use. While most modern headstones and grave markers are made of marble, granite, or bronze, a wide variety of materials can be used for headstones.

Once you know what material your loved one’s headstone is made of, you can choose cleaning products that will safely clean without causing damage. If you can’t tell what material was used and don’t have any records to consult, you can check with the cemetery to see if they can identify the stone, read this article for some more info, or do a quick search online for similar headstones.

4. Use Gentle Options First

headstone carved with flowers with plants growing over it
As you start the actual cleaning process, start by using the gentlest methods. Carefully remove plant growth by hand, cutting plants close to the roots to prevent them from growing back. Brush off dirt with a light cloth or gentle brush, and use a soft toothbrush to get the dirt out of the carvings and grooves in the stone.

To remove moss and lichen, soak the headstone in water and wait a while. After a little while, the growth should loosen up, and you can use a plastic scraper to remove the moss.

Before using any cleaners, start with water, gentle soap, and brushes. Depending on the material, you can also try baking soda on some headstones. If these methods don’t work, you can then move on to use stronger cleaning products (step 5) if your cemetery allows.

5. Test Cleaners Before Using

woman's hand using a cloth to wipe cleaning products on a headstone
As you pick a cleaner to use on the headstone, start by reading the instructions and looking at product reviews. Do research to ensure you choose the best cleaner based on the headstone’s condition, material, and local conditions (sunny vs. shaded cemetery, high vs. low humidity, etc.).

Once you’ve selected a cleaner, test it on a small, less visible area of the headstone first. After following the product’s instructions, let the area fully dry before using it on the entire headstone. That way, you know for sure that it won’t cause damage!

No matter what, you should avoid power washing the gravestone or using harsh cleaners like bleach and strong acids or bases. These can cause permanent damage to the headstone and surrounding grass and plants.

6. Don’t Clean Too Often

woman with cleaning gloves using a brush to clean a headstone
Now that the headstone looks clean and new, you’ll probably want to keep it that way! But think twice before cleaning the headstone frequently. Cleaning too often can accelerate the wear and tear of the headstone. Additionally, you should avoid using chemicals too often or cleaning the headstone during extreme heat or cold.

A good rule of thumb is to clean a headstone about once every 1-2 years, but that number can vary based on the environmental conditions in your area and the headstone’s condition.

Cleaning a headstone is an important task that shouldn’t be taken lightly! As you follow these steps, take time to remember your loved one and the impact they made on your life. While the cleaning process can be time-consuming, know that you are ensuring your loved one’s memory lives on for years to come.

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

Do You Know About These 8 Cemetery Expenses?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

When you buy a car or plan a vacation or throw a 50th anniversary party, you take time to consider your options and review your budget. If you’re planning to purchase a cemetery burial space – whether now or in the future – it’s always a good idea to follow the same practice. While purchasing a plot or niche may seem straightforward, there are some expenses that you may not know about. Today, let’s talk about 8 cemetery expenses to consider as you financially prepare to purchase a burial space in your chosen cemetery.

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

1. Burial Permit

By law, there are certain rules and regulations around the proper care and disposal of a human body. Before a person can be buried, the funeral home must apply for and obtain a burial permit. Without this document, burial cannot take place, so it’s an important step in the process. Your funeral director will apply for the permit on your behalf, so there’s nothing you will need to do. However, the burial permit does come with a fee. The amount will vary from state to state, so if you’d like to know the cost in your state, make sure to ask your funeral director.

Woman wearing black dress holding gray granite urn close in her arms

2. Casket or Urn

This next one is a bit self-explanatory. If you have opted for full-body burial, you will need to purchase a casket. There are many different types available in a variety of price ranges, so you should find something that works for your specific needs. If you’ve opted for cremation, you can either place the cremated remains in a niche or bury them in a plot. Either way, you will need an urn to house the ashes. Speak with a funeral director to get a good sense of the cost of urns and caskets in your area. They can explain the pros and cons of the different materials and types.

Cemetery worker overseeing arrival of an outer burial container

3. Outer Burial Container

When a casket or an urn is buried, it is placed in an outer burial container. This container (often made of concrete) prevents the ground from shifting too much as the dirt around the grave settles. There are long-term benefits to preventing the ground from settling unevenly. For example, the cemetery grounds remain level (fewer tripping hazards), routine maintenance is easier and less expensive, and headstones are less likely to shift and tip over time. Unless it’s a “green” cemetery, most burial grounds require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

There are two types of outer burial containers: grave liners and burial vaults. To learn more about them, read “Grave Liners & Burials Vaults: What’s the Difference?

Wall of cremation niches with flowers

4. Plot or Niche

And here’s another obvious expense – the plot or niche itself. The offerings at every cemetery will be a bit different, and costs will vary depending on where you live. Additionally, certain sections of the cemetery may come with a higher price tag. It’s also likely that if you want a plot close to a water feature, bench, or something similar, the cost may go up. The best way to nail down what a plot or niche costs is to speak with cemeteries that service your area. Then, with the information you’ve gathered, you can select the cemetery and plot option that best fit your specific needs.

Opening of a grave at a cemetery

5. Opening & Closing of the Grave

If you have chosen casket or urn burial for your final disposition, then you will also need to consider the cost of opening and closing the grave. But what does it mean to open and close the grave? This fee includes digging the grave itself, preparing the ground around the site for the graveside service, back-filling the ground once services are complete, and then landscaping the area to restore and preserve the beauty of the burial space. The cemetery employs maintenance and grounds staff to ensure that this necessary function is done well and correctly for each family.

Well-maintained headstones and graves in a cemetery

6. Headstone or Grave Marker

There’s one thing you will always find at any final resting place – a headstone or grave marker. Grave markers come in a variety of types, so there are quite a few options to consider. Do you want a more traditional headstone made of granite? Or do you prefer a flat, bronze marker? Do you need a simple plaque for a cremation niche? Would you like to add custom details to the grave marker, like a gravestone recipe or an inscription or image? The cemetery or funeral home can direct you to a reputable monument company, who will work with you to create a marker that commemorates a loved one’s life for generations to come.

Close-up of red rose resting on a grave marker

7. Headstone Installation

Related to the grave marker, there may be an additional expense to properly install the headstone once it’s complete. When you are speaking with cemetery personnel, make sure to ask if they have an installation fee and if it varies depending on the type of grave marker. For example, it may cost less to install a single grave marker than to install one that includes multiple names. Having this information will help you make decisions regarding what type of headstone you want to commission for a loved one’s grave.

Person pulling weeds around a grave

8. Perpetual Care

One final cemetery expense to consider is perpetual care. But what is perpetual care? Basically, this fee is paid into the cemetery maintenance fund. The fund is then used for groundwork, security, and other tasks like mowing, weeding, or maintaining pathways and signage. In this way, the grave is looked after and cared for regularly for years to come. Sometimes the service includes headstone maintenance, but often, it does not. Generally, perpetual care is a one-time fee that is 5-15% of the burial plot’s price. However, it can vary, so make sure to ask the cemetery for more specifics.

Outdoor mausoleum wall with memorial flowers

What Next?

There’s a lot of information out there about average costs for burial, but it’s best not to rely too much on generalities. It’s true that if you live in Arkansas, your burial costs are going to be lower than if you live in California. However, within California, burial in one area of the state may cost less than another. The best way to figure out average burial costs in your area is to speak with a few cemeteries where you live. That way, you can get a good sense of the average.

Before we go, it’s worth noting that you may want to purchase a cemetery plot early. Planning ahead for funeral and cemetery wishes is an easy process and can save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the long run. By taking time now to speak with a funeral home and a cemetery, you can remove the burden of planning from your family’s shoulders and ensure that everything meets your wishes and stays within your budget. You can reach out to a trusted funeral home to learn more about the benefits of planning for funeral wishes in advance.

Woman wearing black and holding yellow flowers as she visits a loved one's grave

11 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cemetery Plot

By Cemeteries, Educational, Explore Options

More than likely, purchasing a cemetery plot is only something you will do once or twice in your lifetime. While choosing a cemetery plot is a personal decision, it can greatly affect others who may want to visit the grave, such as next of kin, extended family, and friends. So, if you are looking to purchase a cemetery plot sometime soon, make sure you consider these 11 questions before you sign off on the official documents.

Bouquet of purple flowers resting on top of a headstone or grave marker

1. Does the cemetery have a good reputation in the community?

As with any purchase, you’ll want to make sure you’re dealing with good people in a reputable business. Look up reviews of the cemetery online. Talk to friends or neighbors about their experiences with local cemeteries. Check the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about the cemetery. And of course, visit the cemetery yourself and talk to the staff face-to-face. You can learn a lot from a little reconnaissance mission.

2. What types of plots does the cemetery offer?

There are many different types of plots available for purchase. For example, you could choose a single burial space, a double-depth space, a family lot, a crypt, or a mausoleum. However, some cemeteries only offer certain types of plots. Perhaps you are interested in a mausoleum niche, but the cemetery you are considering only offers single or double-depth spaces. Do a little research into which type of plot you want and then discuss the cemetery’s options.

Cemetery with single graves, crypts, family lots, and other types of cemetery plots

3. Does the cemetery have any specific rules or regulations?

Before you commit to a cemetery, ask them if they have any specific rules or regulations. For example, some cemeteries don’t allow families to leave decorations at the gravesite. Or they require that all gravestones have the same appearance, such as a flat grave marker or plaque. Also, most cemeteries require the use of a grave liner or burial vault, which is good to know for budgeting purposes. Every cemetery is different, so to avoid surprises, make sure to ask.

4. Do the cemetery grounds appeal to you aesthetically?

While the way a cemetery looks isn’t ultimately important, it’s nice to know that your (or a loved one’s) final resting place is in a pleasant place. So, take stock of the cemetery. Is it well-maintained? Are the grounds manicured? Are there huge potholes or unsightly, overgrown areas? Depending on where you live, you may not have much choice in which cemetery you use. However, if the look and feel of a place matter to you, that’s valid and shouldn’t be ignored.

Woman wearing black and holding yellow flowers as she visits a loved one's grave

5. Do family and friends have easy access to the cemetery?

Another thing to consider is whether those left behind will have easy access to the gravesite. For many people, visiting the grave of a loved one is a part of the healing journey and can help them feel close to the person who has died. In both movies and real life, it’s not uncommon to see family visiting a lost loved one to share news, to introduce a new spouse or child, or simply to say hello to someone loved. But to do this, the gravesite must be easily accessible. So, as you choose a cemetery, make sure it’s easy to find, is open to visitors, and is relatively close to home.

6. Do you have any preferences for the location of your plot?

The cemetery will have plots available in different locations, and they may vary in price. For example, if you want a plot near a water feature, a pond, or a bench, it may cost a little more. Also, is the plot on elevated or depressed land? The location could matter if you live in an area where water levels rise and fall. Make your preferences known to the cemetery staff. And if you don’t like the options they have to offer, check out the next cemetery on the list.

Pretty pink flowers in foreground with headstone in background

7. Are there any additional costs to consider?

You will, of course, pay for the plot itself, but are there other fees to consider? For example, how much does the opening/closing of the grave cost? Is there a fee for ground maintenance or perpetual care of the gravesite? Is there a headstone installation fee? Sometimes fees can feel like they come out of the woodwork, so ask upfront for a list of total costs. That way, you can plan and budget correctly.

8. What types of personalization does the cemetery allow?

Some families love the clean, polished look that comes with uniformity. Seeing how organized and neat everything is feels right and good for them. For other families, there may be a greater desire to create something unique, such as a gravestone in a particular shape or color. Neither choice is right or wrong – it all boils down to preference. So, as you decide which plot to buy, consider whether personalization at the cemetery matters to you or not.

Wall of cremation or burial niches

9. What are the cemetery’s responsibilities regarding the gravesite?

As you decide on which cemetery to work with, ask them what their responsibilities are toward the gravesite. How often do they maintain the lawns? Will they let you know if the headstone starts to crack or weather? Do they clean the headstones? If there’s a maintenance fee, what does that cover and for how long? It’s always good to know what’s included in any service you purchase so you know exactly what you’re getting.

10. Does the cost estimate fit into your budget?

The cost of a burial plot varies a lot, depending on where you live and what type of plot you want. For example, the same type of plot will cost more in Washington, D.C., than in Arkansas. Additionally, public cemeteries will typically cost less than private cemeteries. When you combine the plot fee with any other fees, it can add up. By asking for a cost estimate, you can determine if everything fits into your budget or if you need to adjust your plans.

Mature man sitting next to a loved one's gravesite, leaving a flower of remembrance

11. Can you pre-purchase a cemetery plot?

In other words, can you purchase a cemetery plot before you need it? Absolutely! In fact, it’s actually a good idea to do so. Planning ahead for funeral wishes can save you money, give you time to consider all the options, and remove the burden of planning from your family’s shoulders. It’s a lot easier to make decisions when you aren’t under pressure, so a little advance planning can make purchasing a cemetery plot a smoother process for you.

Hopefully, you feel better prepared to speak with cemetery personnel about plot options, but just in case, here are a few more resources for you:

5 Differences Between Sealer & Non-sealer Caskets

By Cemeteries, Educational, Planning Tools

When planning a funeral, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed by all the new terms and definitions. If you are interested in burial as your method of final disposition, one term you may come across is sealer and non-sealer caskets. But what are they? How are they different? Today, let’s discuss each type of casket as well as 5 major differences between them.

Blue metal casket with pink flower spraying, waiting for burial

What is a Sealer Casket?

With a sealer casket, there is a rubber gasket (or some other sealing material) along the top edge of the casket, creating a seal when the lid (or “couch”) is closed. This mechanism creates an air-tight seal that traps air pressure and gases within the casket, which speeds up the decomposition process. This seal also prevents outside materials – like dirt, moisture, bugs – from getting inside the casket. However, please note, it’s not 100% guaranteed to keep everything out, especially if the casket is subject to flooding or some other natural disaster.

“Sealer” caskets go by several names, including “gasketed” caskets and “protective” caskets. Additionally, they are not recommended for use at a crypt or mausoleum because the casket may swell or expand when gases are unable to escape. There’s limited space in a mausoleum niche, so any expansion is a concern.

Silver metal casket with pink and white flower spray on top

Important Notes for Sealer Caskets:

  • If the person died of an infectious disease that poses a risk to the public, a sealer casket can reduce the risk of contagion.
  • In cases where the body is embalmed, a sealer casket can decrease the likelihood that chemicals will seep into the ground.
  • While a sealer casket doesn’t prevent decomposition, it does a better job at protecting the body from outside elements, like moisture, bacteria, and dirt.

What is a Non-Sealer Casket?

On the flip side, a non-sealer casket does not include a sealing system, but it still closes firmly and won’t break open. Decomposition is slower with non-sealer caskets because any air pressure and moisture can be released from the casket’s interior. Additionally, because they lack a seal, non-sealer caskets come in a wider range of materials, including some eco-friendly options.

Wicker casket with memorial candle nearby

5 Major Differences Between Sealer and Non-sealer Caskets

Now that you know some basic facts about each type of casket, let’s take a deeper dive into 5 major differences between the two types of caskets, so you can choose the one that makes the most sense for your needs.

1. Cost

Because of the sealing mechanism and the fact that they are made of metal, a sealer casket is generally going to cost more than a non-sealer casket. However, you should consider your plans for the casket. If you are placing the casket at a mausoleum, a non-sealer casket may be best. On the other hand, if you are transporting the body by air, a sealer casket will likely be required by the airline.

2. Decomposition Rates

Decomposition rates differ between the two types. With sealer caskets, decomposition occurs more quickly due to the air pressure and moisture inside the casket. A non-sealer casket allows air pressure, moisture, and gases to escape, so the decomposition process slows down. If the decomposition rate matters to you or your chosen cemetery, choose the casket that best meets those needs.

Two people standing by white casket, placing pink flowers on top

3. Environmental Factors

If you are interested in natural burial, then a non-sealer casket is the better option. Without the sealing mechanism, you can choose a casket made of wood, bamboo, or even wicker. Sealer caskets, on the other hand, generally come in sturdier materials, like bronze, copper, or steel. Additionally, metal caskets don’t break down naturally, which makes them less environmentally friendly.

4. Transportation Needs

In cases where the body needs to travel long distances – especially by air – a sealer casket is best. Because it is considered leak-proof and air-tight, a sealer casket is preferred by airlines. After all, they don’t want a biohazard situation on their hands. Speak with your funeral director to determine if your funeral plans require a sealer or non-sealer casket.

Pallbearers carrying wooden casket

5. Above-ground Burial Considerations

If your funeral plans include above-ground burial – such as in a mausoleum – then a non-sealer casket may be the better choice. With above-ground burial, cemetery operators often prefer a slower rate of decomposition. Because of this, if you purchase a sealer casket, they may break the seal after the casket is placed in the mausoleum or crypt.

With a better understanding of sealer and non-sealer caskets, you can now make funeral decisions with more confidence. But remember – as with everything relating to a funeral, there’s no right or wrong choice. There’s only what makes the most sense for your family and your situation. Talk things over with a trusted funeral director. They will use their years of knowledge to help you understand what options are available based on your personal preferences.

Row of gravestones with flowers at a cemetery

Burial FAQs: What Are Your Burial Options?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options No Comments

Burial traditions across many cultures have one thing in common—a permanent resting place is essential for honoring and remembering loved ones. But you have many options when choosing a permanent resting place, like ground burial, interment in a crypt, natural burial, or burial at sea.

With all those options come many questions. As you consider burial options for yourself or a loved one, choosing what’s right for you and your family is most important. To give you a better understanding of your burial options, here are some answers to common questions about burial! 

What Does a Traditional Burial Entail?

Red roses on top of a headstone

When you choose traditional burial services from a funeral home, you can expect a package that covers all aspects of the funeral and burial. This includes fees for the funeral director and staff, transportation of the body, embalming, burial containers (such as a casket and vault), facilities for visitation or viewing, arrangements for memorial or funeral services, graveside services, opening-and-closing costs (such as gravesite preparation, back-filling, and landscaping), and the hearse and other necessary vehicles.

While some traditional burial packages may include cemetery options, some cemeteries require additional expenses for preparations. These may include a cemetery lot or crypt, perpetual care of the gravesite, a grave liner, or the grave marker, monument, or headstone (which could include installation fees).

What Are My Burial Options?

Choices for burial options can vary greatly, depending on your preferences and budget. Cemeteries may provide most or all of these property options for selection and purchase:

  • Single burial space – used for the burial of one person or cremated remains
  • Double-depth space – used for two individual persons, one buried at a deeper depth and the other buried at a normal depth on top of the first
  • Family lot – a designated area used for multiple family members
  • Mausoleum – a public or private building for above-ground placement of caskets within crypt spaces.
    • Private mausoleum – a building, typically an adorned stand-alone building, that houses the remains of family members and creates a space for private visitation
    • Community mausoleums – a community, usually climate-controlled building, where families can select the location and level of the crypt and personalize crypt plates and crypt markers

As you consider the options available, think about what will work for you and your family. Would your family rather have one shared, private space for everyone? Or are you all fine with a public area? Talk to your family about these options as you make your decisions.

What Should I Ask Before I Buy Cemetery Property?

Row of gravestones with flowers at a cemetery

Before purchasing cemetery property, research your area cemeteries to determine which options best fit your needs. There are four types of cemeteries:

  • Private cemetery – private property designated as a cemetery where burial spaces are not sold to the public and burials are restricted to members of a family or friends of the family.
  • Public cemetery – a privately-owned or municipal cemetery property where burial spaces and lots are sold to the public.
  • National or state cemetery – a government-owned cemetery in which eligible veterans, their spouses, and dependents may be buried at little or no cost to the family. If you are a veteran, learn more about veterans’ burial benefits here.
  • Natural or green cemetery – a cemetery that requires a biodegradable casket or urn and places limitations on embalming.

Each kind of cemetery has its own benefits and drawbacks. Many cemeteries require fees to maintain the grounds, monuments, headstones, or markers. These may be included in the property value, so be sure to inquire whether or not perpetual care is included or if there are separate fees for upkeep. You may also request information about any rules or regulations the cemetery might enforce. Many cemeteries have rules about the types of monuments or markers permitted, seasonal decorations, grave candles, and flower placement.

Who Should I Speak to About Cemetery Needs?

Funeral homes are a great starting place for figuring out your cemetery needs. But while some funeral homes have their own cemetery, many do not. If the funeral home you are working with isn’t associated with a cemetery, they can help you find a local cemetery that fits your needs. In general, though, cemetery needs should be taken care of at the cemetery itself. Once you’ve chosen a cemetery, talk to them to find out more about the options they offer.

But how do you know if you should talk to the funeral home or the cemetery about your questions? Here’s a quick breakdown! For questions about caskets and grave liners or burial vaults, speak to the funeral home. For questions about a plot, opening and closing of the grave, or setting a monument, speak with the cemetery.

What Are My Casket Options?

brown casket with lace lining

Caskets come in many different materials and a variety of price points. The selection of a casket is solely up to you and your family. Is there a particular type of casket that might be meaningful to your family? Modern caskets are typically made of wood or metal, lined inside with different fabrics. Most caskets are either half-couch or full-couch caskets. Typically, the cost depends on the materials used for construction. Some caskets (typically made of metal) withstand outside elements. Other caskets, such as those used in green burials (made of hemp, wicker, and other biodegradable materials), encourage the process of decomposition. No matter what type of casket you choose, you can personalize the casket by adding photos or special items.

What is an Outer Burial Container?

Most cemeteries require an outer burial container to prevent uneven landscapes and avoid sinking ground. Most outer burial containers, or burial vaults, are constructed from concrete and metal. At burial, these containers are placed around the casket in the ground. The costs of outer burial containers vary depending on the type of material. When you look for a cemetery, you can ask whether or not they require an outer burial container.

What is Natural Burial?

Green plant growing out of soil

Natural burial, or green burial, is a burial with minimal environmental impact. Natural burials are becoming more prevalent and are a great option for those who want to be conscious of the environment. Green burials may include a nontoxic, biodegradable casket, urn, or a burial shroud. There is usually no embalming, or if embalming must occur, eco-friendly embalming fluid can be used. A green burial usually takes place in a dedicated green cemetery or natural preserve.

Please note that green burial grounds are not available everywhere. Check the Green Burial Council’s website for a listing of certified green burial providers. If you want a natural burial, you may still have the option in a conventional cemetery. A more natural burial can also occur by using a wood or biodegradable casket. If the cemetery requires a vault or grave liner, you can turn it upside down without a lid to allow the casket to degrade naturally.

What If Traditional Burial Isn’t Right for Me?

couple standing by the ocean

There are plenty of alternatives to traditional burial! The most common alternative to burial is cremation. Some people choose to donate their bodies to medical science. However, this is not a true form of disposition since the body is usually cremated and returned to the family after about a year. Examples of less common forms of disposition are burial at sea or alkaline hydrolysis (water cremation or aquamation).

There are also different memorial options with cremation. You can turn hair or cremated remains into a diamond, create Parting Stones, or send remains to space. Newer, experimental developments in body disposition include cryogenic freezing, space burial, mushroom suits, plastination (preservation of body parts by replacing water and fat with plastics), and promession (freeze drying with liquid nitrogen and using vibration and dehydration to reduce the body to a dry powder).

As you make decisions about burial, please remember that each state has its own laws and may not legally recognize all forms of disposition. Check your state and local laws to ensure that the disposition method you wish to use is legal. You may also transfer a body to another location where your chosen form of disposition may be legally carried out. To learn more about all your options, talk to a trusted funeral professional. They can help you understand all of your options and make decisions that work best for you and your family.

Woodland forest with trees and purple wildflowers, sun peeking through the trees

Answering Your Green Burial Questions

By Cemeteries, Explore Options No Comments

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “green burial,” but it doesn’t really mean anything to you. Today, we’re going to dive into what it is, how it differs from standard burial, what makes a burial “green,” and more. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of green burial and whether it’s right for your personal wishes.

Woodland forest with trees and purple wildflowers, sun peeking through the trees, green burial concept

What is Green Burial?

Founded on the belief that death care practices shouldn’t be harmful to the environment, green burials aim to leave minimal environmental impact. The goal is to conserve resources, protect workers from potentially harmful chemicals, and reduce carbon emissions with the aim to restore and preserve natural habitats.

What Makes a Burial “Green”?

It’s always best to discuss green options with a local, trusted funeral home, but green burials focus on a few key factors:

  • Burial containers made of non-toxic, biodegradable materials
  • Embalming with non-toxic materials, like plant-derived essential oils
  • Caskets are not covered by a grave liner or burial vault
  • Marking graves with trees, plants, or stones rather than traditional grave markers
  • Burial takes place in a green-certified cemetery

Person wrapping their arms around a tree; the tree has a red heart on the bark; green burial concept

Is Green Burial Common?

While not the most common choice, interest in the practice is rising. According to a 2017 National Funeral Directors Association survey, more than 53% of respondents expressed an interest in exploring green options.

In response, many funeral homes are looking into what certifications are needed and what changes should be made to accommodate this interest. At present, there are a limited number of cemeteries approved by the Green Burial Council (GBC), but that number is increasing every year.

How Does a Cemetery Become “Green”?

To become green-certified, a cemetery must meet the Green Burial Council’s Cemetery Certification Standards. The GBC recognizes three different types of green burial grounds.

  • Hybrid Cemetery – Most common; at hybrid cemeteries, a section of a traditional cemetery is set aside specifically for green burials.
  • Natural Burial Grounds – This is a standalone cemetery where specifically natural burials take place; only burial containers of biodegradable materials, no chemicals, etc.
  • Conservation Burial Ground – This type of green cemetery must meet all the requirements of a Natural Burial Ground but also be run by a government agency or non-profit.

To learn more about GBC’s certification requirements, click here to visit their website.

Woodland area, showing grass and a red-capped mushroom

Is There a Difference Between Green, Natural, and Home Burial?

Generally, people use the terms interchangeably. However, there is a small difference. With a green burial, the burial portion must take place in a green-certified cemetery. However, a natural burial can take place in any cemetery where burial without a grave liner is allowed.

In case that was confusing, let’s recap. Both green and natural burials focus on minimal environmental impact, biodegradable caskets, and the use of non-toxic chemicals. However, the type of cemetery determines whether a burial is “green” or “natural.” A burial is only considered “green” if the body is buried in a green-certified cemetery. Otherwise, it is considered a natural burial.

As for home burials, they could fall into either category, depending on where the burial takes place.

Is Green Burial Allowed in All 50 States?

Yes, the practice is legal in all 50 states. However, there may be some state-specific requirements, especially if you want to transport a body across state lines. To get more detailed information, stop by a funeral home you trust, and they will get the answers you need.

Looking at up at the top of the trees in a forest; leaves are orange and yellow with the shape of a heart showing

Is Cremation Considered Green?

While cremation does reduce land use, it’s not considered “green” by either the National Funeral Directors Association or the Green Burial Council. Cremation by fire emits potentially harmful substances into the atmosphere and burns fossil fuels. Because of this, the practice is not considered as environmentally friendly as green burial.

However, water cremation (or alkaline hydrolysis) is thought to be more environmentally friendly. It has a smaller carbon footprint, uses less fuel, and doesn’t release as many emissions. If you are interested in water cremation, talk with a funeral director. This form of cremation is not widely accessible yet, so it may not be readily available in your area.

Can I Still Have a Service?

No matter what type of burial or final disposition you choose, it’s always recommended that you plan some sort of service. As human beings, we need to know that our lives matter. The funeral service is where we do that by coming together to remember and honor a loved one’s life and legacy.

Plus, the service is an opportunity to process the pain we feel and give and receive support from friends and family members. We aren’t meant to do life alone; we need each other in both the good times and the difficult times.

While green burial may be on an expedited timeline, that doesn’t mean you have to give up having a service. Instead, speak to your funeral director and review the options.

Small planting beginning to grow in the dark earth; green burial concept

How Do I Ensure My Burial Is Environmentally Friendly?

If having an environmentally friendly funeral is important to you, there are many things you can do to ensure your end-of-life choices are as green as possible.

First, speak with a trusted funeral professional about the options available in your area or if a service would need to be entrusted to a third party (such as water cremation). Second, decide whether you want a fully green service or if you want only certain elements to be green. These days, funerals are very personalized, so you can mix green elements with traditional elements.

But as you consider the options, remember that the Green Burial Council looks at the following items when determining whether a funeral is green or not:

No Toxic Chemicals

Body preservation, such as for a viewing or visitation, should not include any harmful or toxic embalming chemicals. Instead, refrigeration, dry ice, or eco-friendly embalming fluid should be considered.

Biodegradable Burial Materials

Use a coffin, casket, or shroud made of biodegradable substances like bamboo, wicker, silk, or hemp. Sustainably harvested wood is also a good option.

Small stone heart resting in the moss of a large tree out in the forest; green burial concept

Avoid Concrete Vaults

Many cemeteries require grave liners or burial vaults to prevent the ground from sinking over time, but their manufacture and transport causes carbon emissions and uses great amounts of energy. For this reason, a green burial will not include a liner or vault.

Natural Grave Markers

Green cemeteries suggest the use of natural objects for grave markers (such as trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, or rocks). Many cemeteries provide a GPS location so that a loved one’s grave can be easily found.

Where Can I Find More Information?

For more information regarding green burial (or natural burial), speak with a local funeral professional or visit the Green Burial Council website. Remember, green burials are not available everywhere, but your local funeral home will work with you to come up with a plan that best fits your needs and wishes to protect the environment.

10 of America’s Oldest Cemeteries You Should Visit

By Cemeteries, History of Funerals

After a loved one dies, it’s normal to fear losing your connection to them. That’s one reason why cemeteries are an excellent place to connect with lost loved ones, to remember the past, and to learn from what has gone before. Professor of Anthropology Richard Veit says that cemeteries are “worth visiting and they’re worth studying. If we take the time to listen to what the stories might tell us, we have a lot to learn.” So, today, let’s look at 10 of America’s oldest cemeteries and burial places and see what stories they tell and what we can learn about our history and ourselves.  

1. Ernest Witte Site (2700 BCE)

Shows archeologists using brushes and tools to excavate a historical site

Believe it or not, one of the oldest burial sites discovered in the United States is in Austin County, Texas, not far from Houston. In the 1930s, youngster Ernest Witte and his brother dug a hole looking for buried treasure. However, instead of gold and silver, they uncovered human remains.

It wasn’t until 1974 that Witte shared this discovery with archeologists at the University of Texas. At that time, researchers investigated the area and discovered the skeletal remains of 238 people. They determined that prehistoric burials had taken place in the area over a period of 4,000 years (from 2700 BCE to 1500 CE)! While no grave markers exist in this cemetery, it’s definitely considered the oldest discovered burial ground in the United States. (Learn more here!)

2. Grave Creek Mound (250 BCE)

Grave Creek Mound, a green hill with a paved path heading toward it

Another ancient burial site in the United States rests at the northwestern border of West Virginia, near Moundsville. It is called Grave Creek Mound, and archeologists believe it dates back to the Adena culture in 250 BCE. One of the funeral customs of the group was to bury their dead in raised mounds.

The mound is both physically and scientifically stunning because it required ancient members of the group to move nearly 57,000 tons of soil to create the hill. There are smaller mounds nearby, which contained trinkets, jewelry, and other religious items, no doubt part of the funeral ritual. Sadly, looters raided the mounds over the years, and much of the history is lost to time. You can still visit Grave Creek Mound today, which has been registered with the National Register of Historic Places.

3. Cahokia Mounds (800 CE)

Cahokia Mound in the distance, a large, grass-covered hill below blue sky

To round out ancient burial sites you can visit, we can’t forget the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Found northeast of St. Louis, Cahokia was once the largest indigenous settlement in what we now call the United States. At its peak (circa 600 – 1350 CE), it is estimated that more than 15,000 people lived there.

In addition to neighborhoods and marketplaces, the settlement also boasted a series of notable mounds. These mounds had many purposes, one of which was burial of the dead. Archeologists began working at the site in the 1960s and have preserved the remains of 270 people. The area is now registered as a National Historic Site and is protected and preserved for future generations. (More info here!)

4. Jamestown Original Burying Ground (1619)

Image of James Fort, part of the recreation of Jamestown, Virginia

Now, we’re going to jump forward quite a few centuries until we get to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. When 104 English colonists arrived in April 1607, they encountered many challenges, and according to Captain John Smith, 50 of them died by September.

At the time, the colonists were buried inside James Fort to avoid attracting the attention of the local Native American tribes. Eventually, the bodies were moved to the Jamestown Original Burying Ground, which was established in 1619. Today, you can visit the historic site of Jamestown, and archeologists are still at work excavating the original 1607 burial ground.

5. King’s Chapel Burying Ground (1630)

King's Chapel Burying Ground at a distance, with dark and weathered grave markers in the foreground

Following the settlement at Jamestown, more European colonists came to the shores of the New World. Because of that, more cemeteries began to appear on public registries. In Boston, Massachusetts, King’s Chapel Burying Ground was created in 1630. It is Boston’s oldest cemetery and was established by Isaac Johnson, who originally owned the land.

In 1688, an Anglican Church was constructed near the cemetery and became known as King’s Chapel. Several notable residents of the cemetery are John Winthrop, Massachusetts’s first governor; Hezekiah Usher, the colony’s first printer and publisher; and Mary Chilton, who is believed to be the first woman to disembark the Mayflower. If you walk the Freedom Trail in Boston, you will stop by King’s Chapel Burying Ground on your trek.

6. Charter Street Cemetery (1637)

Charter Street Cemetery, many weathered tombstones in a green open space

Originally a private cemetery owned by the Wade family, Charter Street Cemetery was established in 1637 in Salem, Massachusetts. The earliest gravestones date to 1683, and there are roughly 485 marked graves. The cemetery became public in 1717 and is known for some famous (and infamous) residents.

The Salem Witch Trials occurred in the city between 1692-93, and while none of its victims are buried in the cemetery, some other people involved in the trials are. (You can find a list of notable graves here.) For those interested in this contentious period of Salem’s history, a stop at the cemetery is a must.

7. Standish Burial Grounds (1638)

Plymouth Rock, where Myles Standish and other Mayflower passengers stepped onto land

While the Plymouth Colony was established before Boston, its oldest cemetery dates to 1638 (versus Boston’s 1630). Named for military leader Myles Standish, the cemetery is located in current day Duxbury. Used for more than a century, the cemetery includes the final resting place of many original Mayflower pilgrims, like Myles Standish himself.

Abandoned in 1789, the cemetery was reclaimed by the Duxbury Rural Society in 1887. Since then, the grounds have been well-maintained and named a National Historic Site. There are approximately 130 gravestones, the oldest belonging to Captain Jonathan Alden. If you are at all interested in America’s early history, this cemetery is a great addition to your itinerary.

8. African Burial Ground (1630s)

Map that focuses on New York City

Though there’s no confirmed date of establishment for New York City’s African Burial Ground, we do know that it began sometime in the 1630s. Up until 1795, the grounds became the final resting place for both enslaved and free Black people. Unfortunately, the site was then forgotten until 1991. At that time, it was uncovered during the construction of an office tower.

Now a protected place, it’s estimated that more than 15,000 people are buried at the African Burial Ground, making it America’s earliest known and largest rediscovered African burial ground. Today, guests can visit an outdoor memorial, interpretive center, and research library commemorated to honoring the contributions of enslaved Africans to colonial New York.

9. Old Gravesend Cemetery (1643)

Nestled in the New York city borough of Brooklyn, Old Gravesend Cemetery dates back to 1643 and New York’s early Dutch settlers. At its establishment, New York was known as New Amsterdam, and Gravesend was a small settlement nearby.

First mentioned in a last will and testament from 1658, Old Gravesend Cemetery was likely established not long after Gravesend’s settlement in 1643. The cemetery contains 379 stones, and a restoration project is currently underway. Historians are particularly interested in finding the grave site of Lady Deborah Moody because she founded Gravesend and was the first woman to establish a settlement in the region. So far, her final resting place remains a mystery.

10. Granary Burying Ground (1660)

Paul Revere's grave as it stands in Granary Burying Ground with an American flag next to it

Lastly, let’s go back to Boston for the final entry of oldest cemeteries! In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city you will find a place of stillness and calm: the Granary Burying Ground. Between 1660 and 1880, roughly 5,000 people were interred in the cemetery. However, only about 2,300 grave markers still remain today.

For any visitor to Boston, the Granary Burying Ground is a worthy inclusion, as it is the final resting place of many notable figures. These figures include Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, as well as Crispus Attucks and the other victims of the 1770 Boston Massacre.

Before we go, here are a few other cemeteries worth an honorable mention:

Are there any other locations that should have made this oldest cemeteries list? If so, please know that their exclusion was unintentional.

graves with bright red and pink flowers

Cemetery Etiquette: 6 Tips for Visiting a Cemetery

By Cemeteries, Grief/Loss, Memorial

Visiting your loved one’s grave can be an important part of your grief journey – it can help you process your loss and reflect on memories of your loved one. But visiting a cemetery can be intimidating, especially if you’re unfamiliar with cemetery etiquette. Whether you’re going to the cemetery by yourself or with others, it’s important to be considerate of those around you. By following the 6 tips below, you can show respect to other mourners, the groundskeepers, and those buried in the cemetery.

Drive with care

person driving a car

When driving through a cemetery, drive slower and more cautiously than you typically would. To avoid accidentally driving over a grave or monument, stay on the roadways and off the grass, even when parking, if there’s enough room for another car to pass. Also, follow the cemetery’s posted speed limit – if there are no signs, driving 10 mph or slower is recommended.

Remember that people walking in the cemetery may be grieving and not paying attention to their surroundings. Be cautious and watch for people crossing your path. If you’re listening to music in your car, keep the volume low while driving through the cemetery.

Respect graves and monuments

headstone for a mother with pink flowers on it

Out of respect for both the deceased in the cemetery and their loved ones, avoid touching monuments or stepping on graves. Depending on how old the cemetery you’re visiting is, some of the monuments may be decades or even centuries old and could be fragile and crumbling. While walking through some cemeteries, it can be difficult to tell where it’s okay to step. Try to follow the path made by the headstones, and don’t step over or on headstones or monuments.

Additionally, you should never remove anything left by another person at a grave. Flowers, coins, and decorations all have special meaning to the person who placed the items, and removing these personal items can cause more grief for a loved one. Coins may seem out of place, but they often have specific meanings, especially when placed on a veteran’s grave, so leave them where they are.

Be considerate of other mourners

Person standing in front of a grave

People visiting a cemetery are likely visiting a deceased loved one and may be overwhelmed with emotion, praying, or spending time in contemplation. To respect their needs, keep your speaking volume low and avoid talking on the phone or playing loud music. Keep your phone on vibrate or silent to keep distractions at a minimum.

Many people who are visiting a loved one’s grave don’t wish to speak with others. If you are nearby or passing them, it’s okay to smile or nod at them, but don’t try to start a conversation unless they seem like they want or need someone to talk to. Likewise, if a funeral or graveside service is going on while you visit, steer clear and leave them plenty of room. It’s also inappropriate to take photos of someone else’s funeral or of someone who is visiting a grave.

Keep an eye on children and pets

Parent holding a child's hand in a cemetery

Bringing your child to a loved one’s grave can benefit them by helping them come to terms with the death and learning about their own emotions and grief. But before you bring your child to a cemetery, speak to them about how to behave. They’ll need to be relatively quiet and respectful of others, and they shouldn’t run around the cemetery. Ensure your child knows the rules and can follow them before bringing them with you.

Some cemeteries allow owners to bring their pets, while others only allow service dogs. If your cemetery does allow pets, keep them on a leash at all times. You should also be respectful of other mourners. Not everyone likes animals, and an excitable dog may not be a welcome visitor for some people. Even more importantly, make sure you clean up after your pet. You don’t want to leave an unwelcome surprise for someone visiting their loved one!

Clean up after yourself

Person picking up an empty water bottle

No one wants to visit their loved one in the cemetery and find trash on the grave. Out of respect for other visitors and the groundskeepers, don’t litter and pick up any trash you see. If your cemetery doesn’t have a trash can, you can take the trash back with you – and next time you visit, bring a bag to put trash in.

It’s also a good idea to avoid leaving highly breakable items. Glass or ceramic vases and jars are beautiful, but bad weather or nighttime critters may knock over the items. Leaving food at a grave can also attract ants, bugs, and critters, so many cemeteries recommend that you not leave food at a grave.

Learn the cemetery’s specific rules

graves with bright red and pink flowers

As mentioned above, different cemeteries have their own rules, so learn your cemetery’s regulations before you go. One way to determine the cemetery’s rules is to check their website or call the office. If you can’t find any information online, many cemeteries also have a sign near the entrance with their rules. Most cemeteries are also only open at certain times, so please respect your cemetery’s hours.

Visiting a cemetery can be intimidating at first, but spending time at your loved one’s grave can help you in your grief journey. During your visit, remember that everyone grieves differently. You may find it helpful to speak out loud to your loved one, pray, cry, or simply stay silent and ponder. As long as you are respectful of both the deceased around you and other mourners, do what will help you in your grief journey.

Understanding Half-Couch versus Full-Couch Caskets

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

After losing a loved one, a viewing or visitation can be a sweet moment of remembrance and an opportunity to say a final goodbye in person. As you put together this meaningful event, one thing you will need to decide is whether to use a full-couch or a half-couch casket. But what’s the difference between them? Let’s talk about it.

What is a Half-Couch Casket?

If you live in the United States, you are likely most familiar with a half-couch casket. This means that there’s a seam in the middle of the casket, which splits the lid into two different pieces. This design element allows you to open just the top or the bottom of the casket. At many viewings, the head section is open, so that mourners can see the face and torso of the person who has died. The lower half of the body remains covered by the bottom section of the lid.

Shows example of a half-couch casket with top half of lid open

What is a Full-Couch Casket?

While less common, full-couch caskets are also used across the United States. For example, singer James Brown was laid to rest in a full-couch casket after a viewing open to the public. The only difference from a half-couch casket is that the lid is one solid piece. When you open the casket, you see the entire body, though often the legs are covered with a blanket of some sort.

Shows example of a full-couch casket with the lid fully open in one piece

Does It Matter Which I Choose?

Ultimately, it’s up to your personal preference.

Both options:

  • Will facilitate an open- or closed-casket viewing or visitation
  • Are appropriate for burial in a cemetery
  • Are available in a variety of styles and materials

In some areas of the country, one type may be more popular than the other, but again, it boils down to preference. For closed-casket services, the full-couch offers a more “complete” look (no middle seam), which is important to some. However, since the lid completely closes on both types, either could be chosen for a closed-casket event.

If you’re on the fence and just aren’t sure which to choose, speak with a funeral professional about their experience helping other families. They can give you an insider’s view on the pros and cons of each type.

Man stands in front of casket paying his respects at funeral

Are There Any Specific Benefits to Each Type?

While the main difference is the lid, there are subtle benefits to each type you may want to consider.


  • Brings the focus to the deceased person’s face
  • Some caskets cost less because the foot portion is less detailed (it won’t be seen)
  • With a particularly tall person, the half-couch style can disguise the need to bend the knees to fit the body into the casket (oversized caskets are more expensive)


  • Allows full view of the deceased’s body, which may be important for the family
  • May meet religious needs or cultural norms for your area
  • Commonly used when there is no viewing

As you can see, the only strong factor to pull you to one casket or the other is whether you have specific regional, cultural, or religious needs. Otherwise, you can select either option and get everything you need.

silver gray casket with casket spray of red roses lying on top

Does the Casket Type Affect Personalization Options?

In general, you can decorate and personalize however you want with both types. With flowers, the spray can either lay across the middle with a full-couch or on the lower portion of the half-couch (when the lid is open). For veterans, the U.S. flag will be placed in a slightly different location depending on whether you select full-couch or half-couch. Any other items you want to place on or around the casket can be arranged with the funeral professionals assisting you.

What About Cost?

All caskets – full-couch and half-couch – are available in a variety of styles and materials. This means that there’s going to be a range of prices. As an extreme example, if you get a gold-plated casket, it’s going to be expensive whether you choose full-couch or half-couch. If cost is a determining factor for you, then use that to guide whether you choose full- or half-couch. There are affordable options with both types, so you will be able to find something that meets your budget.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the differences between full-couch and half-couch caskets. If you’d like to know more about wood, steel, and eco-friendly caskets, take a minute to read “How to Select a Casket.”

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