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What does it mean when people say rest in peace?

The phrase “rest in peace,” commonly abbreviated as RIP, is a well-known saying used to honor someone who has died. It’s a short, simple phrase, but it holds great meaning and expresses some core beliefs about death that many cultures and religions share. When you say or see RIP, you likely have many questions about this common sentiment: What does it really mean? Where did it come from? And what are you wishing for the deceased when you say it? Exploring the origins and meaning behind this phrase can shed light on some profound ideas about eternal rest, the peace we hope our loved ones find after death, and the power of shared grief and remembrance.

What Does “Rest in Peace” Literally Mean?

In the most literal sense, saying “rest in peace” to someone who died means you are wishing their soul to rest calmly and without disturbance in the afterlife. The phrase expresses the hope that the deceased has found the peace and quiet they were unable to attain in life. Some key aspects of the literal meaning include:

  • Rest – To cease movement, work, or action; to be at ease and free of responsibilities or anxieties.
  • In – Expressing a state of being or location.
  • Peace – Freedom from disturbance or noise; tranquility.

So together, the words form a complete sentiment wishing that the dead person’s soul is able to be at rest, free from the troubles of life, and able to exist in enduring peace and quiet. It’s a sincere hope for the dead to transition smoothly into a peaceful afterlife state.

Where Did the Phrase “Rest in Peace” Come From?

The origins of saying “rest in peace” in memorial can be traced back thousands of years. Some potential origins include:

  • Ancient Jewish Prayers – Traditional Jewish mourning prayers in Hebrew dating back to the Middle Ages wish the deceased’s soul will dwell in the “Garden of Eden” and remain at rest under divine protection.
  • Ancient Roman Tombs – Many tombs of wealthy Romans were inscribed with the Latin phrase “Requiescat in Pace” or its abbreviation “RIP,” wishing the soul of the deceased would find rest.
  • Christian Prayers for the Dead – Early Christian funeral rites included prayers asking God to grant the departed eternal rest and peace in heaven.
  • 19th Century Tombstones – The phrase “rest in peace” and its abbreviation gained popularity to inscribe on the graves and tombs of predominantly English-speaking Christians in the 19th century.

So while no one knows exactly where it began, the sentiment of wishing peaceful rest upon the dead is certainly ancient across many cultures. It endures as a shared human desire for the departed to transition smoothly into whatever peaceful afterlife people imagine, whether Heaven, Nirvana, or beyond.

What Religion Does “Rest in Peace” Come From?

Because wishing a dead person to “rest in peace” is such an ancient, common sentiment across cultures, it does not originate from any one religion. However, it is most commonly associated with Christianity and Christian funeral practices today.

Some key religious connections include:

  • Christianity – Wishing souls to “rest in peace” was popularized by generations of Christian prayers and funeral rites asking God to grant the dead eternal rest and welcoming them into the peace of Heaven.
  • Catholicism – Catholic funerals commonly include the phrase as part of prayers for the deceased’s soul. It is seen as a way to pray for their passage into Heaven.
  • Islam – In Islam, the dead are also wished safe passage to an eternal afterlife, though the phrase “rest in peace” is not as commonly used in Islamic traditions.
  • Judaism – Jewish mourners say prayers wishing the soul finds peaceful rest in the Garden of Eden and recite “May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
  • Buddhism – Buddhists believe the dead will be reincarnated and wish them peace as their soul transitions between human lives, rather than an eternal rest.

So while “rest in peace” is used and recognized in many faiths, it arises most directly from centuries of Christian prayer traditions for those who have passed away into Heaven’s peace.

What Are Other Common Phrases to Honor the Dead?

While “rest in peace” or RIP are by far the most ubiquitous phrases used in memorial, other common sayings to honor the dead include:

  • We’ll Miss You
  • In Our Hearts Forever
  • Gone But Not Forgotten
  • Forever in Our Memories
  • May Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest
  • Dance Among the Stars
  • Always in Our Hearts
  • Gone Too Soon
  • In Loving Memory
  • Sleep in Heavenly Peace

These phrases all capture the shared emotions of grief, love, longing, and hope that so many feel when honoring someone who has passed away. They are simple but beautiful sentiments to include in memorial tributes, condolences, and funeral proceedings.

What Are You Wishing for When You Say “Rest in Peace”?

When you say “rest in peace” or “RIP” to someone who has died or their loved ones, you are conveying some profound and meaningful wishes, even in those simple words. Some of the deepest hopes encompassed in this phrase are:

  • Wishing them everlasting peace – No more pain, suffering, or distress.
  • Wishing them tranquility and freedom – No more burdens or obligations.
  • Wishing their soul comfort and calm – A soothing transition beyond this world.
  • Wishing that God/gods protect them – Safe in the hands of a divine power.
  • Wishing them eternal rest – No end to the peaceful state their soul has found.
  • Wishing those left behind peace – Consoling the living in their grief.

Despite its brevity, “rest in peace” expresses hope for an enduring, peaceful state for the deceased. It also shares the grief of losing someone and wishing their loved ones comfort. The simple phrase carries deep meaning and empathy.

Do All Cultures/Religions Say “Rest in Peace”?

While the sentiment of wishing the dead eternal peace and rest transcends cultures, the phrase “rest in peace” itself arises from Christian and Catholic funeral rites. Not all cultures or faiths use this exact phrase, though many have similar sentiments when memorializing their dead. Some examples include:

  • Hinduism – “Om Shanti” meaning “Peace, peace, peace” is commonly said to wish a peaceful journey after death.
  • Islam – “To Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return” conveys wishes for a peaceful return to God after death.
  • Buddhism – “Honor and remember their life” is more common than wishing rest, due to the belief in reincarnation after death.
  • Judaism – “May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life” is said at funerals.
  • Native Americans – “Wishing their spirit good journey” conveys a peaceful transition to the spirit world.

So while not universal, the sentiment crosses cultures. Shared humanity bonds us in feeling peace and rest are the ultimate end for our deceased loved ones.

When is it Appropriate to Say “Rest in Peace”?

It is appropriate to say “rest in peace” or “RIP” when you are expressing condolences to those grieving a death or honoring someone who has passed away, such as:

  • In a funeral eulogy or speech remembering the deceased
  • In a condolence card or flowers for the bereaved family
  • In a social media post after someone’s death
  • At gravesites, memorials, or funeral services
  • In an obituary honoring the deceased’s life
  • To end a prayer for the dead at religious services
  • Anytime you are paying respects to someone who died

It is appropriate anytime you want to convey a simple yet meaningful sentiment honoring someone’s passing and wishing their soul peaceful rest.

How Else Do People Pay Respects to the Dead?

Some other common ways people convey respect and honor to the dead beyond saying “rest in peace” include:

  • Attending memorial services like funerals, burials, or wakes
  • Bringing flowers, gifts, or other offerings to gravesites or memorials
  • Lighting candles in remembrance
  • Offering prayers, blessings, or singing at religious services
  • Making charitable donations in honor of the deceased
  • Posting tributes and memories online or in print obituaries
  • Having moments of silence or rituals to remember them
  • Visiting and decorating graves to pay respects
  • Sharing fond memories and stories about their lives
  • Having memorial items like photos, plaques, or benches in their honor

These meaningful rituals provide comfort to the living and show respect for the legacy of those who have passed on.

How Can You Show Support for the Bereaved?

For those mourning a death, you can show compassion and support beyond just saying “rest in peace” by:

  • Listening to their memories and letting them express emotions
  • Offering practical help such as food, childcare, or errands
  • Simply being present – a hug or hand to hold goes a long way
  • Remembering anniversaries, birthdays, or important dates
  • Inviting them out or to talk when they’re ready
  • Sending cards, flowers, or other gestures on holidays or tough days
  • Honoring the deceased’s memory or legacy
  • Gently encouraging grief counseling if needed

Letting them know you care and that the deceased will be remembered is the most meaningful form of support.


Saying “rest in peace” or “RIP” are simple yet profound ways we wish those who have passed away to find eternal tranquility. By exploring its origins, meanings, and significance, we gain insight into humanity’s shared hopes for what lies beyond death – some realm of endless peace and rest for the souls of our loved ones. Though cultures and faiths have diverse funeral rites, these two short words unify us in both grief and solace. So the next time you see RIP, remember the deep compassion encompassed in that brief phrase.