How to be a pallbearer

Someone asked you to be a pallbearer, but you don't know what to do. Our guide talks you through the process, so you can relax and know what to expect.
How to be a pallbearer

What is a pallbearer? Well, a pallbearer is someone who carries the casket at a funeral or burial. That person does not have to be a big, burly man. Pallbearers of all ages and sizes are more common than you may think. They can walk with the coffin as other people transport it, carry it, or move it on a bier (the moveable frame on which a coffin is placed).

The pallbearer might be a close relative or friend. If not, then a trained pallbearer will help during the service. They might have been requested in advance by the deceased or recommended by the funeral planner. It often means a lot to the family to have someone important to their loved one escort them to their final resting place.

Carrying the coffin can be an emotional experience. It is one of the last steps in a homegoing ceremony, bringing home the reality of death. If you are asked to be a pallbearer, it can be a meaningful way to say farewell to the deceased and to show your support to the family.

The funeral director and the pallbearers determine what they feel each person can handle, physically and mentally. You certainly don’t need to be a superman or superwoman to fulfill the role. But you should consider your emotional state of mind before committing to this position.

The weight of the casket will determine how many pallbearers are needed. Often, it will range from four to six people. If the coffin is particularly heavy, the funeral director will advise you how many pallbearers are needed.

Duties as a Pallbearer

Mainly, your duty will be either carrying the coffin or pushing it along on a wheeled bier. When, where, and how long will vary depending on the funeral arrangements. You will also have other things to do as part of the funeral process, but here is a short guide you can use as a pallbearer meaning or example of to what to expect as a coffin bearer: 

Arrive early.

Show up before the funeral so the funeral director can explain what will happen and when. You will find out where you need to walk, your position next to the coffin, and how to carry or wheel the coffin. ⁠

Remain silent.

As a sign of respect, you should refrain from speaking or chatting whilst moving the coffin.

When the coffin arrives.

You will stand by the rear of the funeral car, silently facing forward, feet shoulder-width apart, arms down in front of your body, one hand on top of the other. You will stay there until the service begins.

Get the coffin from the funeral car.

Using the handles, carry the coffin close to your body but at waist height or on your shoulder. Shouldering is a more traditional way of moving a coffin. Someone will help you lift the coffin onto your shoulder. The funeral director will group people according to height to make transporting the casket smoother. If using a wheeled bier, guide the coffin with the handle.

Place the coffin where it needs to be. The location will vary depending on what kind of funeral it is.

If you’re at a cremation service, carry the deceased into the crematorium and place the coffin on a catafalque. The catafalque supports the coffin during the funeral. If you are at a burial, you will bring the casket to the front of the facility and place it on wooden trestles or a bier. If escorting the deceased on a bier, you wheel the coffin into position. The people who come to the funeral will usually stand, and they may bow their heads as you pass to show respect to the deceased. 

Bow your heads for four seconds after you have concluded shifting the coffin.

The funeral director will prompt you to do so, and you will take your seat. Pallbearers may have reserved seats next to one another.

After the service, you may need to transport the coffin again.

If the cremation is somewhere else, you will need to take the coffin back to the funeral car and then transport the casket to the new location. If having a burial or graveside service, you will have to transport the coffin once more, but this will be the final move from the funeral car. You will take on the task of loading the casket onto the lift that will lower it to the ground.

The Last Tasks

As a part of the service, you can also support the family in other ways. You may collect the floral arrangements or speak with guests. Little things like this mean a lot to the family. It’s okay to express your feelings about your friend or relative. Don’t be afraid to tell a funny story about old times. If you knew the deceased, maybe you knew they didn’t take life so seriously, so it may be a good time to laugh. Though we understand times like these are sad, you’ve gathered to celebrate the person’s life, and doing so may require a smile.

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