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What is a Pallbearer?

A pallbearer helps carry the casket during a funeral.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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A pallbearer is someone who carries or attends a coffin as it is transported during funeral ceremonies. The position is primarily ritual in nature, with most being intimate friends or relatives of the deceased. In the case of funerals for prominent public figures and members of the military, the pallbearers may also include important public officials; the coffin for a police chief, for example, might be accompanied by a mayor and high-ranking police officers in addition to more intimate acquaintances of the deceased.

The pall is the cloth that traditionally covers a coffin, especially in Catholic funerals. Pallbearers may carry the coffin, or they may walk along side as it is carried in by professionals, sometimes touching or holding the pall. In many cases, the coffin is actually rolled on a lightweight cart, so there is no need for anyone to worry about coordinating with other people, and for formal funerals, the coffin may be carried by horses or other animals. If a large number of people are asked to serve as pallbearers, some of them may carry the coffin, while others accompany it as attendants.

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Usually, pallbearers carry the coffin from the hearse or private car to the church or other facility where the funeral is to be held. After the ceremony, they accompany the coffin again as it travels to the graveyard or crematorium; if the deceased requires hearse transport, the attendants walk the coffin to the hearse and then accompany it again at its final destination. In a burial, they may help lower the coffin into the ground with the assistance of cemetery staff.

Being asked to serve as a pallbearer is a great honor, as it suggests that the deceased or the family regard the person as a special friend to the deceased. As a general rule, these people are expected to dress in somber colors and formal clothing, and in addition to carrying the coffin, they may assist the family at the funeral. For example, they may circulate among the funeral guests or support the family through the ceremony.

People who have been asked to be a pallbearer and who have not accompanied a coffin before should inform the priest or other officiant and the funeral director, if the family is using one. They can show the individuals what they need to do and how to handle the coffin. It's a good idea for the pallbearers to coordinate with one another to determine who will walk where, and how to dress. If these people will be actively carrying the coffin, they should make sure to keep an eye on each other to ensure that they are all walking at the same pace.

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Discuss this Article

Kristee
Post 10

@kylee07drg – I think that pallbearer etiquette calls for six pallbearers. At every funeral I've ever attended, there have been six of them.

Three pallbearers walk on each side of the coffin. There are enough handles for them to safely move it around.

If the pallbearers will be actively carrying it, then strong men are generally chosen. I've never seen a weak or sickly pallbearer.

kylee07drg
Post 9

How many pallbearers does it typically take to move a coffin around? Is there a certain number that generally serve, even if the coffin is being carted around?

JackWhack
Post 8

Obituaries always mention who the pallbearers at the funeral will be. Often, many of them have the same last name as the deceased.

My grandmother had eight children, so she had plenty of kids to serve as pallbearers. I don't think I've ever seen a female pallbearer, though. Only the boys served as pallbearers at both her funeral and my grandfather's funeral.

seag47
Post 7

@summing – I would think that the funeral home workers would take over the pallbearer duties in this case. Most likely, they would use the cart, and it would only take a couple of them to push it along.

summing
Post 6

What do they do at small funerals when there are not enough people to act as pallbearers?

truman12
Post 5
I have had the unfortunate honor of being a pallbearer at several funerals, most recently my grandmother's. It is not by any means a fun job, but it is one that has to be done and I think it is a very respectful thing to do for the person that has passed away. You carry them gently to their grave. What could be more thoughtful?
StormyKnight
Post 3

@grumpyguppy- Honorary pallbearers do not actually carry the casket. For example, if a police officer dies, there are the the active pallbearers that carry the casket but the entire police department can be listed as the honorary pallbearers.

GrumpyGuppy
Post 2

What exactly are honorary pallbearers?

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