A Guide to Being a Pallbearer
What to expect if you’ve been asked to be a pallbearer
A pallbearer is someone who helps carry a casket or coffin into the venue where the funeral is being held. Usually the pallbearers will carry the coffin from the hearse to where the service is being held. There may be around six to eight pallbearers, depending on the size of casket.
Pallbearers are usually chosen by the closest relatives of the person who has died, and may be family members, close friends or co-workers. Although pallbearers have traditionally always been men, women are now also given the role. It is considered a great honor to be a pallbearer.
What to expect
It can be daunting to accept the role of pallbearer, but it usually means a lot to the bereaved to have their loved one’s closest and most important friends carrying the casket. Be assured that the funeral director will be on hand to offer advice and reassurance.
Make sure you arrive slightly early to the funeral so that the funeral director can give instructions to you and the other pallbearers. They will tell you how to carry the coffin, where exactly you have to walk, and your position in relation to the other pallbearers. It is likely that other pallbearers will also be doing this for the first time, so don’t worry about asking questions.
Sometimes the pallbearers will also be asked to carry the casket back to the hearse after the service if the cremation or burial is happening elsewhere. You should be told before the funeral begins if this is the case.
Choosing not to be a pallbearer
You do not have to accept the role of pallbearer if it is offered to you, though it is considered an honor to be asked. You might regretfully decline because you do not feel you are physically able to carry the coffin, as it is often quite heavy.
In this case you should politely decline the offer and explain why you do not think you would be suitable. The person arranging the funeral may offer to make you an honorary pallbearer instead.
If you are arranging your loved one’s funeral, you may want to choose certain people to carry their casket. Pallbearers can be almost anyone – grandchildren, siblings, close friends – as long as they are physically able to carry the casket and walk steadily. Sometimes caskets can be carried on a trolley, which makes it easier for the pallbearers. You should discuss this with your funeral director.
You should also bear in mind that being a pallbearer can be a deeply emotional experience. Feeling the weight of the casket can have a profound impact and some people may find it too distressing.
You do not have to choose friends or family to be pallbearers. The funeral home will be able to provide experienced pallbearers to carry the casket, but this may cost extra.
If you have asked someone to be a pallbearer and they have refused, do not see this as an insult to you or your loved one. Carrying the casket can be a daunting task, both physically and emotionally. You might instead want to consider making them an honorary pallbearer.
What is an honorary pallbearer?
An honorary pallbearer is someone who is acknowledged as an important part of the funeral but does not have to actually carry the casket. This might be appropriate if you want to acknowledge many people as an important part of your loved one’s life, but there can only be a certain number of people actually carrying the casket.
It may also be a kind gesture for someone who you would want to carry your loved one’s casket, but who is physically unable to, because of illness or being unable to attend the funeral.
There is no limit to the number of honorary pallbearers you can have at your loved one’s funeral. This can be a good way to recognize the people who were important to your loved one, as not everyone will have time to speak during the service.
Read more about planning a funeral or funeral etiquette.