“One only need visit a graveyard from the early twentieth century to see how close death was. Graveyards and cemeteries aren’t only a record of those who came before us, but also visual markers of death as it cut it swath through our communities.
The Spanish long ago started adorning the entrances to graveyards with skulls and bones, a symbol of what happens to all who were laid to rest there. By the time of the establishment of the American colonies, the skull, with and without crossbones was an accepted symbol of death. The winged skull was symbolic of how the soul is freed and taken up into the afterlife. Triumph over death.” (Gothic Horror)
Most tombs contain objects which have specific meanings relating to memento mori.
“(The) Death’s Head (skull, skull and crossbones) – On medieval monuments the death’s head was used to represent Death, a reminder that death comes to everyone, as indicated by the words that later accompanied it, Momento Mori, meaning “Remember that you must die.” Heart in the Mouth of a Death’s Head means the soul emerging triumphant from death.” (The cemetery Club)
Skull, Wreath on – Victory of death over life.
Bones – Death and decay. One of the symbol set of the Memento Mori.
Skeleton – The personification of death.
Skull – Death; sin; with crossbones – mortality.
Skulls and Wings
Winged skull – Flight of the soul from mortal man.
Hourglass – Time’s inevitable passing, attribute of death and Father Time, represents the passage of time and the shortness of life.
Hourglass On its side – That time has stopped for the deceased.
Hourglass with Wings of Time – Time Flying; Short Life.
Alpha and Omega
Alpha and omega – The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; symbolic of God, the beginning and the ending.
“Dove – An important symbolic animal in Christianity representing the Holy Spirit. The white dove is referred to in the story of baptism of Christ. “And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him” (Bible, John 1:32). The descending dove is a very common motif on grave memorials. Seven doves are representative of the seven spirits of God or the Holy Spirit in its sevenfold gifts of grace. Purity, devotion, Divine Spirit.”
Deceased doves also mean that the person died suddenly.
“Age could also be noted with a rose bud indicating the grave of a child. A partial bloom was used to show someone who had died in his or her teen or early adult life. And a full bloom signified someone in the prime of life.
A broken blossom, whether a rose or another flower, indicated that someone had died too young.”
Urn, draped – Connotes death, often of an older person.
Cornucopia – A fruitful life. “Also known as the “Horn of Plenty.” Symbolizes an abundant, fruitful life. Also a symbol of the harvest, which in turn symbolizes the end of life.” (Grave Addiction)
Clock/Watch – (rare) Represents the transitory nature of human existence. In psychoanalysis it signifies human emotions. It also can represent new beginnings and opportunities.
Broken branches on the tree symbolize a life cut short.