Often funerals include the services of a group of pallbearers. You may have wondered just what pallbearers do, how they are chosen, and other questions.
The term pallbearer dates to the Middle Ages. During this period, a decorative cloth used to drape a casket was known as a pall. Four pallbearers would each take a corner of this cloth while a casket was being transported and hold it in place, “bearing the pall.” Other men would carry the casket. Today, a pallbearer is sometimes referred to as a casket bearer. It is considered an honor to be asked by the family to be a pallbearer.
What Is A Pallbearer?
A pallbearer is somebody who assists in the carrying of a casket during the funeral and burial process. There are usually six pallbearers, but there may be eight, depending on the size of the casket. It’s one of the oldest and most important ceremonial roles at a funeral. Pallbearers are usually close friends and/or relatives of the deceased.
When there are more pallbearers than are needed for a funeral, often the family will name others as honorary pallbearers. Others may be named as honorary pallbearers if they are unable to lift the casket due to physical limitations. They walk behind the casket, usually in pairs. While being a pallbearer has traditionally been reserved for men, women can be pallbearers if the family so chooses. Being named a pallbearer is considered an honor, and very few people will turn down the request.
How To Pick A Pallbearer
Pallbearers are usually family members or close friends of the deceased. The only limitation would be somebody whom you believe might be too emotional to be able to do a good job of carrying the casket or somebody with physical limitations. Usually, these are the only reasons for a person possibly declining the honor when invited. Such a person might be named as an honorary pallbearer. Others whom the family believes should be included but are not physically capable of lifting and carrying the casket can be named as honorary pallbearers. On the other hand, if there aren’t enough friends and relatives available or capable of serving in this capacity to provide a full contingency of pallbearers, the funeral home will be more than happy to fill in with staff members.
A pallbearer needs to be physically able to assist in lifting and carrying the casket. Keep in mind that many churches have stairs at the entrance, and the pallbearer needs to be able to navigate these while carrying the casket. He also may have some uneven ground to contend with at the gravesite. He needs to be able to keep his composure for the most part and not be nervous about being in front of others or be uncomfortable with attending a funeral. He needs to remain calm and dignified throughout the funeral and gravesite processes.
What Is Expected Of A Pallbearer
A pallbearer helps to carry the casket wherever it is needed during and after the funeral. If the funeral will be an open casket funeral, usually the funeral home staff will already have the casket set up at the church or venue before the service begins. If the casket will be closed, it is traditional for the pallbearers to carry it into the venue. For a church service, the pallbearers usually carry the casket down the aisle to the front of the church. Family members often walk behind the casket into the church, depending on the church’s traditions. The pallbearers usually sit together in assigned seats or an assigned pew at the front.
After the service, the pallbearers will carry the casket out to the hearse and load it in. Learn more about hearses in this post. In some cases, there will be a device called a church truck, which is a wheeled device upon which the casket is placed for taking it from the church. Much like an ambulance stretcher, the wheels fold underneath when it is placed inside the hearse.
The pallbearers will then usually ride together behind the hearse in a special car or limousine so that they are the first to arrive at the gravesite. They will take the casket out of the hearse and carry it to the gravesite, where it will be placed on a device that will lower it into the ground at the end of the service. The funeral home staff is responsible for this.
If a pallbearer has any questions, they can be answered by the funeral director and should be asked before the date of the funeral. Usually, the pallbearers will arrive at the funeral home early to greet family members. Find out more about what funeral directors do in this post.
What Should A Pallbearer Wear To A Funeral?
The traditional attire is dark suits and ties for men, and dresses or pants suits for women. Female pallbearers should wear comfortable dress shoes rather than high heels. Black suits and dresses were the norm for a long time, but this has not been the case for quite some time. Dark, muted colors such as navy, forest greens and others are perfectly acceptable.
The weather may play a part in what pallbearers wear to serve. In hot weather, especially if part of the service will be held at the gravesite, a dress shirt and tie without a jacket may be preferable. A good idea would be for the pallbearers to get in touch with each other well before the service to plan on what they should wear. This way, nobody will stand out by not wearing a suit jacket when all the other pallbearers are wearing them. Casual clothing, of course, is not recommended, and may well be considered disrespectful. These include clothing articles such as running shoes, jeans, casual or tee shirts and baseball caps.
Being asked to serve as a pallbearer is considered an honor and is the last thing a person can do for the deceased. Having friends and relatives serve brings comfort and a sense of support to grieving family members. Pallbearers also lend an added element of respect, honor, and dignity to the last farewell to a loved one. They can be an important addition to that last goodbye.