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A guide to being a pallbearer


Organising a funeral

Being asked to be a pallbearer at a loved one’s funeral can be considered a great honour, so it’s important to understand what is involved and the responsibilities that come with the role.

If you are arranging a funeral, you may wish to choose family members or close friends to be pallbearers, though you may prefer to ask your funeral director to provide their own, if they are able to do so.

This guide will cover:

Pallbearer duties

A pallbearer is responsible for carrying the coffin or casket of the deceased from the hearse to its final place of rest, depending on whether it is a cremation or burial service.  

Cremation service

At a cremation service, pallbearers carry the coffin or casket from the hearse into the crematorium, carefully placing it onto a stand which is known as a catafalque. Typically, there are a minimum of four pallbearers, though six can also be used depending on the weight of the coffin.

Pallbearers will either carry the coffin at waist height, on their shoulders, or wheel it in with the assistance of a small trolley, known as a wheel bier.

Burial service

A burial often includes a service at a crematorium chapel or place of worship. If this is the case, the coffin or casket will be carried into the chapel and placed on either wooden trestles or wheel biers at the front. At the end of the service, pallbearers will carry the coffin back out of the chapel and carefully place it back into the hearse before proceeding to the burial site.

Once at the burial site, pallbearers will carry the coffin to the grave, place it on wooden struts and position lowering straps through the handles of the coffin. When given the command, the coffin is lifted by the straps, allowing the wooden struts to be removed, and then lowered into the grave.

What to expect if you have been asked to be a pallbearer

If you have been asked to be a pallbearer at someone’s funeral, accepting the role can be quite unnerving. No one wants to be in the position of having to carry the coffin or casket of a loved one, though being asked to be a pallbearer can be considered a great honour and it may mean a lot to the bereaved to see their loved one’s closest family members and friends carrying the coffin.

If you do choose to accept the role, you will be expected to help carry the coffin; this may be for a very short period if wheel biers are being used. You may be asked to shoulder the coffin, however this is only done at the request of the family and if it is safe to do so. If any of the pallbearers do not feel that they can shoulder the coffin, it will either be carried at waist height or placed on wheel biers.

It is best to arrive at the funeral slightly early if you have been asked to be a pallbearer. This will ensure that the funeral director can give you instructions on how to carry the coffin and where you will need to transport it to.

If you don’t feel comfortable carrying the coffin or casket of a loved one, you do not have to accept the role. If this is the case, politely decline the offer and let whoever is arranging the funeral know why; they will most likely understand and respect your decision.

Pallbearer etiquette

Here are some useful tips on being a pallbearer:

  • Carry the coffin with dignity and respect
  • Carefully follow the funeral director’s instructions
  • Wear smart and appropriate attire
  • Walk slowly and steadily
  • Arrive at the funeral slightly early
  • Behave in a respectful manner
  • Avoid talking loudly or laughing

When arriving at the crematorium or place of worship, pallbearers are expected to stand at the back of the hearse in silence, facing forwards with their feet shoulder width apart and their hands held one on top of the other.

If a wheel bier is being used to transport the coffin, pallbearers should walk with one hand on the handle of the coffin and their free hand behind their back. When prompted by the funeral director, pallbearers will be expected to bow to the coffin for four seconds before exiting the chapel.

Choosing pallbearers if you are arranging a funeral

If you are arranging a loved one’s funeral, you may need to decide who the pallbearers will be for the service. There are a number of things you will need to take into consideration when selecting pallbearers, and it is not always an easy decision to make.

Both men and women can be pallbearers, and many people often choose either family members or close friends of the deceased to carry the coffin. Traditionally, there are four to six pallbearers at a funeral, depending on the weight of the coffin.

If the coffin is to be carried on the shoulders, a pallbearer’s height will need to be accounted for; choosing people of a similar height is preferable and will make the coffin easier to carry. The weight of the coffin will also need to be considered. If the coffin is especially heavy, additional pallbearers may be needed to help carry the coffin or casket.

It is also important to consider the distance in which the coffin will need to be carried. If the coffin has to be carried a long way, it may be better to use a wheel bier to take the weight. You will be able to discuss this in more detail with your funeral director.

You may ask your funeral director to provide their own pallbearers, depending on your family’s preference and whether any family members or close friends are available or prepared to take on the role.

At Dignity, each and every one of our funeral directors will ensure sufficient pallbearers are available for your loved one’s funeral, should you require them.

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