A guide to being a pallbearer

Posted: 06/07/2018

Have you been asked to be a pallbearer, but not sure entirely what to expect or what your responsibilities are supposed to be on the day? Perfect Funeral Plans takes a look at the duties of pallbearers at funerals.

What is a pallbearer?

Not entirely sure what a pallbearer is? This is someone who has been asked to help carry the casket or coffin of the deceased to the funeral venue. In the majority of cases, it will be expected for the pallbearers to take the coffin directly from the hearse and then to the funeral service.

The number of pallbearers at a funeral will be dependent on a number of factors, such as the weight of the coffin as well as its size. However, on average, a funeral will typically have up to eight pallbearers to take the coffin into a funeral venue.

Who can be a pallbearer?

In terms of who can be a pallbearer, it is possible for anyone to be asked to be one, but most commonly, it will usually be the case that the people who were closest to the deceased, such as a partner, relatives or friends may be asked to take on the role. Generally speaking, it is considered to be a great honour to be asked by the nearest and dearest to become a pallbearer. In the past, it was traditionally only men who would become pallbearers, although now women may also be asked too, however it still tends to be largely men who take on this position.

What you should expect being a pallbearer

Whilst you may appreciate being asked to become a pallbearer for someone who was close to you that has recently passed away, it can still feel a slightly daunting, overwhelming prospect. This can especially be the case if it is fuelled by the fear of the unknown, having never taken on the role of pallbearer before.  So what you should you expect?

  • Looking smart and ensuring that you have dressed appropriately for the funeral is of vital importance, and especially so when you are one of the pallbearers
  • You will need to not only look smart but make sure the outfit is practical too. For example, ensure that your jacket and shirt is able to accommodate you easily holding the coffin high above your head, as well as make sure that you are wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes on the day. The last thing you want is ending up accidentally falling over whilst holding the coffin
  • Ensure that you arrive earlier than the guests at the funeral so that any instructions or information given by the funeral director that you need to know about prior to the coffin being transferred to the funeral has been given
  • Make sure that you are listening to any directions that are being given to you by the funeral director or the lead pallbearer
  • Ensure that you have attended any funeral rehearsals if they have been provided, to make sure that you know exactly what to expect so you feel calmer and more confident on the day
  • In some cases, the pallbearers may also be required to then take the coffin or casket back to the hearse. This may occur if the burial or cremation will be taking place somewhere other than the funeral venue. The funeral director will inform you should this be the case

Choosing the pallbearers

becoming-a-pallbearer

Keep in mind how emotional the role of being a pallbearer can be, if someone declines your offer.

Is it your responsibility to arrange the funeral of loved ones, including the pallbearers for the service? There are a number of different things you may need to take into consideration when it comes to deciding who will be pallbearers, and this is not always an easy decision to make. Here are some tips that may help to make choosing the pallbearers a little easier:

  • Remember that you should choose people who will be able to carry the weight of a coffin. This means not choosing people who you know to have had existing health problems, such as having a bad back
  • It may be possible to have the coffin carried onto a trolley in order to distribute the weight more evenly amongst pallbearers if it is too heavy. If you believe this may be needed in your circumstances, it is best to discuss this directly with your funeral director to see if this can be arranged
  • Take into consideration the thoughts of the people you intend to ask as a pallbearer. Carrying the weight of a coffin can be a tremendously emotional experience for a number of people, and this may be too much for some people to handle
  • Remember that you are not forced to choose family members or close friends to be the pallbearers for the funeral service.  It is also possible to ask the funeral director to provide pallbearers who are already experienced to help to take the coffin. Nevertheless, it is important to note that this may mean that you have to pay for additional costs of having them
  • If you ask people to be a pallbearer at the funeral service you are arranging and they decline your invitation, try not to take this personally or as an insult to the deceased. You should keep in mind that the task of carrying a coffin or casket can have a huge emotional impact on the pallbearers, and this may be contributing to the reason why they have decided to not become a pallbearer

Honourary pallbearers

You may decide to ask certain people to become honorary pallbearers amongst the main ones carrying the coffin. This means that you have given someone the honour of being a pallbearer, and acknowledged as significant part of the funeral, and the life of the person who has passed away, without them actually carrying the coffin. You may decide to do this as a kind gesture to the person in question (perhaps as they are unable to physically take on the role) or perhaps as there are only a certain number of people who are required to take the coffin into the funeral service.