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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.”

Image of the Hadrian Mausoleum, also called Castel Sant'Angelo

10 Famous & Inspiring Tombs Around the World

By Cemeteries, History of Funerals, Memorial

While the practical purpose of a tomb is to protect the dead, there are examples around the world that prove a tomb can be so much more than that. In some cases, tombs are a testament to human ingenuity, a beautiful declaration of love, a site for reflection and faith, or a place of reverence and remembrance. Today, let’s look at 10 famous tombs around the world and reflect together on the impact a single life can have and how long memories can last.

Image of the Great Pyramids at Giza

#1 – The Pyramids at Giza (Cairo, Egypt)

More than likely, you’ve heard of the Pyramids at Giza, but did you know that they were built as tombs for Pharaohs Khufu (father), Khafre (son), and Menkaure (grandson)? Long considered a wonder of the Ancient World, the pyramids not only housed the mummified bodies of the pharaohs but also any worldly goods the Ancient Egyptians considered helpful for the afterlife. It took an estimated 20,000 workers more than 20 years to construct the largest of the three pyramids. To this day, scholars still aren’t quite sure how the pyramids were constructed. Regardless, the three pyramids stood as the tallest man-made structures for more than 4,000 years. That’s pretty impressive for a tomb!

Image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

#2 – The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem, Israel)

In many Christian circles, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a place of reverence. When Constantine became emperor of Rome in 306 CE, he unearthed what was thought to be Jesus Christ’s tomb. After excavating it, he then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the tomb. While the building has seen its fair share of damage, various Christian communities have restored it through the centuries. Today, six different Christian communities control the church, and they each have their own designated chapel inside it. With such strong ties to Christianity, it’s no wonder this particular tomb is important to so many around the world.

Image of the Taj Mahal

#3 – Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

The Taj Mahal is perhaps the most romantic of the tombs we will discuss today. Completed in 1648, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a breathtaking final burial place for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. With extensive grounds, the complex includes a mausoleum, a garden, and a mosque. Gorgeous in its detail, the all-marble building celebrates the love story between these two historical figures. A royal historian from Shah Jahan’s time described the relationship in his records. He stated that the two were close confidantes and possessed extraordinary physical and spiritual compatibility. When Mumtaz died in childbirth (with their 14th child!), Jahan built the Taj Mahal as an enduring tribute to her. At his death, he was laid to rest beside her, and to this day, they lay together – forever.

Image of the Terracotta Army found in Qin's Mausoleum

#4 – Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China)

Next up is the mausoleum for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (c. 259–210 BCE), who unified China into a single political entity. He standardized scripts, weights, measures, and coins, while also improving roads and fortifications. However, perhaps what he’s most remembered for is his impressive burial complex with its famous Terracotta Army. With more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the Army is stunning from an archeological perspective. Every soldier has a unique facial expression, and each one has authentic clothes, weapons, and hairstyles (different from each other!). No doubt intended to protect the emperor in the afterlife, archeologists believe there are still more soldiers, horses, and chariots to uncover in the years to come.

Image of the Tomb of Jahangir

#5 – Tomb of Jahangir (near Lahore, Pakistan)

Colorful and intricately tiled inside and out, the Tomb of Jahangir commemorates the life of Mughal emperor Jahangir. His son, Shah Jahan (remember him from the Taj Mahal?), built the mausoleum 10 years after Jahangir’s death. At the time of his rule (1605-1627), Jahangir was popular amongst his people, though a bit infamous for marrying 12 times and indulging in alcohol. With a walled garden and 98-foot-high minarets, the impressive structure also includes two entry gates and a white marble sarcophagus covered in its own delicate mosaics. For many, the Tomb of Jahangir is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Pakistan!

Image of the Lenin Mausoleum

#6 – Lenin Mausoleum (Moscow, Russia)

Located in the heart of Moscow, the Lenin Mausoleum commands attention in Russia’s historic Red Square. Inside rests the mummified body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. What’s perhaps most interesting (and disturbing) about Lenin’s final resting place is that his sarcophagus is made of glass and is kept at a temperature of 61 °F (16 °C) and a humidity of 80 – 90%. Why? In order to ensure that Lenin’s body remains as lifelike as possible. In fact, a team of dedicated embalmers maintain the body, and his suit is typically changed every three years. While Lenin wanted a traditional burial beside his mother, Joseph Stalin ordered the display of Lenin’s body. Today, however, many Russians believe Lenin’s wishes should be honored and his body re-interred.

Image of the Hadrian Mausoleum, also called Castel Sant'Angelo

#7 – Mausoleum of Hadrian (Rome, Italy)

If you’ve ever visited Rome, you’re probably familiar with the Mausoleum of Hadrian (also called Castel Sant’Angelo). Both a castle and a fortress, the mausoleum houses the remains of many Roman emperors, including Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and most emperors from the High Empire. Built as a burial place for Hadrian and his family, the castle was once the tallest building in Rome! Situated on the Tiber River, Castel Sant’Angelo is made of brick and stone with a majestic statue of the Archangel Michael at its peak. Today, it stands as a remarkable addition to Rome’s collection of ancient and historic buildings.

Image of the Pantheon in Paris

#8 – The Pantheon (Paris, France)

Much like Westminster Abbey (also worthy of this list), the Paris Pantheon is both a church and a mausoleum. Commissioned by King Louis XV, its design combines the simplicity of gothic architecture with classical Greek elements. Inside, paintings depict the life of St. Genevieve (the patron saint of Paris) and the history of the French monarchy. Today, the Pantheon mainly serves as a final resting place for French heroes. Those laid to rest include Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Braille, and Alexandre Dumas. Situated atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Pantheon is a striking addition to the Paris skyline.

Image of Grant's Tomb in New York City

#9 – Grant’s Tomb (New York City, New York, United States)

As the largest mausoleum in North America, Grant’s Tomb testifies to the gratitude people felt for the man who ended the American Civil War. As the Commanding General of the Union Army and later President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant endeared himself to the American people. After his death, approximately 90,000 people from around the world donated over $600,000 (roughly $18.4 million in 2023 money) toward the construction of Grant’s Tomb. It was the largest public fundraising effort of the time. With mosaics depicting key events of the American Civil War, the granite and marble tomb was completed in 1897. Over a million people attended its dedication ceremony. Today, the US National Park Service maintains the memorial and ensures that it is well-preserved.

Image of Tomb of Agamemnon, also called Treasury of Atreus

#10 – The Tomb of Agamemnon (near Argos, Mycenae, Greece)

Have you heard of the Tomb of Agamemnon (also called the Treasury of Atreus)? It’s perhaps the finest surviving example of a tholos or beehive tomb we still have from Mycenaean Greece. Built around 1250 BCE, it’s unknown whom the tomb was intended for or if it ever housed treasures. However, legend says that it was the final resting place of King Agamemnon. One of nine beehive tombs in the area, the doorway is 18 feet high (5.4 m) and tapers at the top (like a beehive). Inside, the tomb consists of two rooms, and the stonework throughout is decorated with bronze rosettes. The architectural skill and craftsmanship needed to build the tomb is impressive, and the tomb remains an important part of our historical narrative for Ancient Greece.

While such large tombs are now typically out of style, the need to honor and commemorate a loved one’s life still remains. That’s why it’s so important to consider a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one. Whether it’s a headstone in a cemetery or a simple plaque on a cremation niche, it’s important to remember, to honor, to reflect. People matter, and we can keep their memory alive with loving physical tributes. To learn more about the value of permanent memorials, take a moment to read 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial.

Beautiful spread of ingredients to bake a cake

Gravestone Recipes: Adding a Sweet Touch to a Memorial Marker

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Memorial, Planning Tools

When planning a loved one’s funeral or memorial services, personalization is key to creating an event that is both healing and meaningful. The same is true when you’re considering what to include on a memorial marker (e.g., headstone, grave marker, etc.). But thankfully, there are a lot of ways to personalize a memorial marker, and one of them is bringing joy to people! What is it? Gravestone recipes!

What are Gravestone Recipes?

Memorial markers generally include the name, birth date, and death date of the person who has died. Often, the memorial marker also includes an inscription, like a sweet sentiment or kind phrase. However, some families have taken to personalizing the inscription in a new way – adding the recipe for that person’s most well-known dish.

Let’s look at a few examples!

Mom and adult daughter making cookies in the kitchen together, daughter learning from mother

Naomi’s Spritz Cookies

At a cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, Naomi Miller-Dawson’s memorial marker bears the recipe for her spritz cookies. While the memorial marker includes the ingredient list and no instructions, you can use the traditional method for spritz cookies to give you a good start on how to bake the cookies.


  • 1 cup butter or margarine⁠
  • 3/4 cup sugar⁠
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla⁠
  • 1 egg⁠
  • 2 1/4 cups flour⁠
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder⁠
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Kay’s Fudge

Before her death, Kay Andrews of Logan, UT, requested that her memorial marker include her go-to fudge recipe. A woman of encouragement, she often took fudge to friends and family as a gift of love and support. Thankfully, Kay’s family honored her request, and now, we all get to enjoy Kay’s fudge and remember her for her kindness.


  • 2 squares chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Melt chocolate squares with butter on low heat.
  2. Stir in milk until incorporated and bubbling.
  3. Sift in sugar and salt.
  4. Add vanilla and stir.
  5. Continue stirring overheat until the mixture reaches 273 degrees F.
  6. Remove from heat and pour onto a marble slab.
  7. Chill for 3 hours or overnight.
  8. Cut and serve.

Mother and young daughter baking together, making memories

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

In Cascade, IA, a sweet remembrance marks the final resting place of Maxine Menster. When her husband and daughter wanted to add something special to Maxine’s memorial marker, they both thought of her cookies. Handed down through generations of family, Maxine made them every Christmas, leaving her home filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies and her family with precious memories.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup oleo (margarine)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cream


  1. Cream the sugar and oleo.
  2. Add two beaten eggs and vanilla to the mixture.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt into separate bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient alternately with 1 cup cream.
  5. Chill and roll out with flour.
  6. Bake 350 degrees oven and frost.

Father and adult daughter making homemade bread together

Connie’s Date & Nut Bread

For registered nurse Constance Galberd, date & nut bread must have been an important part of saying she cared. Mother of three, Connie died in 2008 and was buried in Highland Mills, NY. While it might have seemed a small remembrance, who can really say how many people have been blessed by her date & nut bread long after her passing? It’s a personalization that keeps bringing joy even today!


  • 8 ounces dates, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts


  1. Pour boiling water (where 2 teaspoons of baking soda have been dissolved) over dates and raisins. Cool.
  2. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix well.
  3. Add 2 eggs, well beaten.
  4. Gradually mix in 4 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Beat thoroughly.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts. Beat thoroughly.
  6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to one hour.
  7. Bake in tin cans (one batch = 13 cans)*

*During the Great Depression (1929-1939), families often baked with tin cans. You can make this recipe using a regular loaf pan.

Father and young daughter baking together, holding a heart made of dough in their hands

What a Sweet Personalization

In so many ways, food is an integral part of many of our core memories. Grandma’s special cake. Dad’s famous BBQ. The family-famous trimmings that only come out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We all have these special foods in our lives, and a lot of times, they are associated with a special person.

If you are looking for a sweet way to personalize the memorial marker of someone who loved spending time in the kitchen, a gravestone recipe inscription might be a good fit. That way, you and so many others can celebrate and appreciate your loved one’s life for years to come.

If you’d like more inspiration for personalizing a memorial marker, go 6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker for ideas!

Can You Name the 4 Different Types of Cemeteries?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Memorial, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A cemetery is a cemetery, right? Well, to a degree, that’s true. However, there are actually several different types of cemeteries you should know about. Today, we’ll discuss the 4 main categories as well as some of the unique features that are available.

traditional upright headstones with flower arrangements

What are the 4 main types of cemeteries?

1. Public Cemeteries

Many cemeteries are public cemeteries. Often, they are the most affordable option. In short, a “public” cemetery simply means that anyone from the general public can inquire about purchasing a plot or niche. However, not all public cemeteries are run the same way.

Government-run public cemeteries

More than likely, a local government, like the city or the county, owns this type of public cemetery. Burial is open to anyone, and the local government maintains the grounds. However, they may not offer a full range of options and services.

Privately-run public cemeteries

On the other hand, privately-run public cemeteries are often owned independently or by a corporation. When you think of a cemetery, this may be the type that comes to mind most readily. They are commonly called “private cemeteries,” though they are open to the public. You can find them through the local funeral home, friends, or searching online. While the cost of a plot/niche may be higher, they also provide more services and options.

No matter which you choose, check on availability. In some cases, public cemeteries become full, sold out, or dedicated to those who die destitute (especially in the case of a government-run cemetery).

cemetery outside a beautiful old church

2. Private Cemeteries

Owned by individuals or businesses, true private cemeteries are not open to the general public. In fact, the owners have final say in who is allowed burial in a private cemetery. Let’s look at two primary examples of private cemeteries: family burial grounds and religious cemeteries.

Family burial ground

Very common in rural America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a family burial ground is located on private land and designated for relatives only. Today, there are more regulations in place, but it is still a possibility. However, there’s one potential problem to consider: access. If land is sold, the family may no longer have access to the cemetery. Some states guarantee the family access to the cemetery, and other states do not. Therefore, make sure you understand your local or state laws before committing to a family burial ground.

Religious cemeteries

This type of private cemetery restricts availability to those of a certain faith or belief or even affiliation.

Examples include members of a certain:

  • Church
  • Fraternal/sororal group
  • Ethnicity
  • Lodge

In most cases, the organization owns the cemetery and only allows members to purchase a plot or niche. While there are a lot of religious cemeteries across the United States, each cemetery has its own rules. Because of that, some are more restrictive and others more inclusive. If you are interested in burial in a religious cemetery, start by talking with the organization most closely affiliated with it.

Veteran cemetery with white headstones and small American flags

3. Veteran Cemeteries

Have you heard of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? This beautiful cemetery is an iconic example of veteran cemeteries across the nation. For eligible active duty servicemen and women, veterans, and their dependents, both national and state veteran cemeteries are an option.

Maintained by the Veterans Administration, there are more than 100 veteran cemeteries in the United States. For those who are eligible, burial benefits are available. These benefits include a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a headstone, and military honors…at no charge. Some state veteran cemeteries charge a nominal fee, but the funeral home can contact the cemetery on your behalf to confirm.

tree with heart marker, representing natural burial

4. Green or Natural Cemeteries

The natural or green cemetery focuses on minimizing environmental impact and limiting the carbon footprint. While natural cemeteries have all the hallmarks of a standard cemetery, there are some notable differences.

They require the use of a biodegradable casket or urn. While embalming is not prohibited, it must be done without specific chemicals or avoided entirely. Instead of headstones, some cemeteries plant trees with minimal markers. For more information on green or natural burial, talk to your trusted local funeral home. They can answer your questions.

Do cemeteries have special features?

Yes, some cemeteries focus on a certain aesthetic. Let’s review a few examples.

Monument Cemetery – features traditional, upright headstones made of granite, marble, or stone; additionally, may include a designated area for flat memorial plaques

Memorial or Lawn Park – uses lawn-level granite or bronze memorial plaques; by using ground-level markers, they intend to promote natural beauty and decrease maintenance costs

Garden Cemetery – similar to a memorial park, except the design of the cemetery includes specific garden elements; for example, Mount Auburn Cemetery is the earliest known garden cemetery in the United States

Columbarium or Mausoleum Niches – while burial is an option for cremated remains, columbarium or mausoleum niches are also available at many cemeteries

Bench overlooking a cemetery on a beautiful day

Is there a cost difference?

Absolutely. The cost of cemetery good and services varies widely and depends on several factors, including:

  • Where you live
  • Type of cemetery
  • Type of burial
  • Location of the plot
  • Memorialization selections
  • Perpetual care fee

Let’s recap. First, public cemeteries are most likely to receive funding from the local government, so their costs are lower. Second, with private cemeteries, there will be fees associated with opening/closing the grave, perpetual care of the grounds, grave liner, headstone, and so on. Third, in most cases, burial in a veteran cemetery will incur little or no cost to you or your family. And lastly, a green or natural cemetery will likely cost less than a private cemetery because they don’t require certain items, such as a grave liner.

Ultimately, the decision of which cemetery to use is up to you and what’s available in your area. Your trusted local funeral home can give you all the information you need to determine what’s best for your needs and your family.

Illustrates what an inscription would look like

6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Memorial, Planning Tools

When visiting a cemetery, it can seem like your options are limited when choosing a memorial marker, but that’s not true. There are many options for creating a personalized monument that will identify a loved one’s final resting place for generations to come. Today, let’s talk about why memorial markers matter and 6 different ways you can personalize a monument to create something unique and special.

Shows an example of a memorial marker

What is a Memorial Marker?

A memorial marker goes by many names. Tombstone. Headstone. Grave marker. Monument. It can get confusing quickly, so we will use “memorial marker” and “monument” for our purposes today.

If you’ve ever visited a cemetery, then you’ve seen memorial markers. It could be a plaque, an upright headstone, a footstone, or even occasionally a ledger stone, to name a few options. Typically, a memorial marker lists the deceased person’s name and life dates. Anything beyond that is customized.

Why is a Memorial Marker Important?

As human beings, when we lose someone we love, our feeling of connection to them continues, even though they are no longer with us physically. It is this connection that contributes to our feelings of loss, that makes it so difficult to process death and move toward healing and reconciliation.

Not only do memorial markers highlight the value of remembering people by name – names are so important – they also give us a place to go to feel close to the person who has died.

To learn more about why memorial markers and a final resting place can be valuable to families, especially when feelings of grief arise or anniversaries come around, check out 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial.

Illustrates why a memorial marker is important as two young people visit a loved one's final resting place

6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker

Now, let’s dive into 6 ways you can personalize a memorial marker to reflect a person’s unique life, personality, and preferences.

To help you decide what’s right for your needs and situation, consider which of these categories you want to focus on (or if you’d like to create a mix):

  • Choose elements that reflect personality (kind, giving, friendly)
  • Focus on family attributes (father, grandmother, uncle, sister)
  • Highlight achievements, hobbies, interests, or long-term commitments

With these categories in mind, let’s talk about personalizing a memorial marker.

1. Create a Personalized Inscription

Also called an epitaph, you can include a short message on the monument that has meaning and significance to everyone – family, friends, and the person who has died.

For instance, you could include:

  • A focus on family (“Beloved mother, sister, and friend”)
  • A poignant sentiment (“Forever in our hearts”)
  • A spiritual quote or verse for a person of faith
  • Pop culture references to music, movies, etc. (“May the Force be with you” or similar)

For a real-life example, one beloved grandmother included her famous fudge recipe on her memorial marker so that everyone who came by could make and enjoy it as much as she did. The possibilities are quite literally endless with how you can personalize the inscription.

Illustrates what an inscription would look like

2. Choose a Color

Next, let’s talk about color. Depending on what material you select, you can choose a color to personalize a memorial marker. Granite is the most popular monument material because it retains its shine for many years. It is available in black, blue, gray, pink, red, and more. If your loved one had an affinity for a certain color, you can ask your monument representative what your color options are.

Bronze is another common material used for memorial markers. Keep in mind, bronze will develop patina over time, resulting in a color change ranging from antiqued green to light or dark brown. Some people love this color change, and one more famous example of patina is the greenish hue that we now see on the Statue of Liberty.

3. Select a Shape

While most people choose a rectangular, square, or pointed top monument, memorial markers aren’t one-size-fits-all. Custom monuments come in many forms—from benches to unique shapes like hearts, books, arches, or even guitars.

If you have a specific vision for what shape you’d like the memorial marker to be, talk to the monument designers about the possibilities. They will discuss the cost and what’s possible when working with stone.

Shows one shape option for memorial markers

4. Add an Image or Symbol

If you’d like, you can request that the memorial marker feature a specific image or symbol. From animals and military insignia to pop culture references or nature scenes, anything is possible. The key is to pick something that is meaningful.

If you aren’t sure what kind of image to request, ask yourself, “Does my loved one have a well-known hobby? A pet who is always nearby? A deep faith? A favorite instrument or talent or sports team?” These types of questions will help you narrow down the options.

Monument companies will work with you on the design and help you create something that will bring your creative vision to life as you honor your loved one’s legacy.

5. Include a Photo

Similar to an image or symbol, you could add a photo (or photos) to personalize a memorial marker. Depending on your wishes, the photo could be etched (by hand or with a laser), or if you prefer to use a color photo, the image can be created in ceramic or porcelain and then permanently affixed to the marker in whatever size you want.

If you decide to include a photo, select one of your favorites and go over your wishes with the monument designer so they can create exactly what you want.

Shows a man leaving flowers at a loved one's memorial marker

6. Incorporate a QR Code

A new trend in memorial marker personalization is the QR code. The code is affixed to the marker, and when mourners or visitors scan the code, they view a website dedicated to that person’s life and legacy.

Imagine if you could scan a QR code for someone who died 100 years ago. It would be both amazing and interesting to read more about who they were and what their life was like.

Of course, this personalization option takes a little additional work on your part (you have to create a website), but it may be a good option for remembering and honoring your loved one’s life.

Do What’s Best for Your Family

The best thing about this whole discussion? There’s no right or wrong. If something traditional is right and good for your needs, do that. If a photo with inscription is best, do that. Would a book top with a literary quote be meaningful? Do that. It’s entirely up to you.

One final note as you consider the possibilities, remember to ask the cemetery representative if they have any specific regulations. Some cemeteries place firm restrictions on monument color and material.

Shows woman visiting a cemetery where there are monument regulations

Now, take some time to brainstorm. Talk to a funeral home or monument company to learn what the options are. Then, start creating a vision for a personalized memorial marker that makes the most sense for your family, your needs, and your loved one.

For more helpful information, make sure to read Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker.

What Do the Coins Left on Veteran Graves Mean?

By Cemeteries, Memorial, Veterans

If you’ve ever visited a national or state veteran cemetery, you may have noticed coins left on grave markers. But did you know that each type of coin has special meaning and significance? Let’s dig into this intriguing tradition a little more.


It’s not clear exactly when the practice of leaving coins on the graves of veterans began. However, many believe that the practice began in earnest after the Vietnam War. Leaving a coin was thought to either be 1) a way to pay respects to a solider without getting pulled into discussions about this much-debated war or 2) a down payment on a drink or a hand of cards when the friends are finally reunited.

For centuries, coins have played a role in funeral and remembrance practices. For example, in Ancient Greece, it was customary to place coins on the eyes or in the mouth of a fallen warrior. In Ancient Egypt and other ancient cultures, rulers and prominent citizens were often buried with coins as well as many household goods to prepare them for the afterlife.

While our funeral practices are no longer in line with the ancient world, coins have survived as a method for paying homage to someone we admire and respect.

What Do the Coins Mean?

Each of the four coin denominations have a distinct meaning, according to tradition.

  • Penny – signifies that someone (veteran or civilian) has visited the grave
  • Nickel – signifies that the coin-leaver attended boot camp with the veteran
  • Dime – signifies that the coin-leaver served with the veteran in some capacity
  • Quarter – signifies that the coin-leaver was present when the veteran died

As you can see, the higher the coin denomination, the closer and more personal the relationship to the deceased veteran. In addition to the four standard coins, it’s possible you may also see challenge coins left at a grave as a token of respect.

What are Challenge Coins?

Challenge coins started gaining more popularity during the Vietnam War when they were used by Special Forces units. Typically, a challenge coin proves group membership (i.e. in a certain unit). Or, unit commanders present them as a symbol of recognition and achievement.

If you ever see a challenge coin on a veteran’s grave, it is a sign of the highest respect. More than likely, it came from a brother or sister in arms. It’s not uncommon for the challenge coin to showcase the emblem of the deceased veteran’s military unit.

It should go without saying, but if you ever come across a challenge coin, please do not take it. Let it be a continual respectful remembrance for years to come.

What Happens to the Coins?

At national and state veteran cemeteries, cemetery staff eventually collect the coins. The cemetery then places the coins into a designated fund used to pay for maintaining the cemetery grounds (washing graves, mowing the lawn, killing weeds, etc.) and covering the burial costs of indigent veterans.

However, no one collects challenge coins. They remain at the veteran’s grave as a sign of remembrance and respect.

For veterans buried in private cemeteries, any coins are subject to the regulations of the individual cemetery. Many cemeteries collect the coins and use them to maintain the cemetery grounds.

Interesting, isn’t it? As human beings, we have an innate need to mark the passing of the people we love and respect. It’s followed us from the beginning of time, and for as long as human beings exist, we will practice the art of remembrance and value the lives of those we love. So, the next time you see a coin on a grave, remember that this person is loved and missed.

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