What Does a Pallbearer Do? The Complete Guide to Duties and Etiquette

By: VGFS
Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The role of a pallbearer at a funeral comes with both honor and responsibility.

Pallbearer duties primarily consist of helping to carry the casket during a traditional funeral or burial.

Below, we have outlined what a pallbearer is responsible for, as well as the etiquette attached to this important role.

Pallbearers are used in funerals or burials that include a coffin or casket.

They carry the coffin from one point to the next throughout the service. Traditionally, there are six pallbearers to align with each of the six handles on the sides of the coffin. There are also handles in the front and back so it is possible to have eight total pallbearers carrying the casket. The number needed depends on the size and heft of the coffin and its contents. Coffins alone generally weigh between 150-250 pounds and must be carried at waist height. Due to this heaviness, pallbearers are typically males over the age of 16. However, women can also serve as pallbearers. Those chosen are often close to the departed or the bereaved family. Any pallbearers who are unable to help carry the coffin due to limited strength can still participate by walking alongside as the others carry it. This role is referred to as an honorary pallbearer.

Pallbearers carry the coffin during critical parts of the funeral service.

Therefore, it is recommended that every pallbearer arrive early at the funeral home. Lateness could hold up the entire funeral service, so it’s important to choose pallbearers who are dependable and have reliable transportation to get to the funeral home. The first key task for pallbearers is to lift the casket onto a church truck (a sturdy platform that holds the casket), which then retracts as the coffin is placed inside the hearse. The pallbearers then take a designated car or limousine that follows the hearse so that they and the casket arrive at the funeral site together. Once at the church, a religious leader may bless the casket. Then, the pallbearers carry the casket down the aisle to the front of the church, with the immediate family walking either ahead or behind the casket. At the service’s conclusion, pallbearers will again lift and carry the casket back to the hearse where it is driven to the burial site. Once at the burial site, the pallbearers lift the casket a final time and carry it to a platform at the burial site. At this stage, pallbearers have fulfilled their duties and may join the rest of the funeral attendees as guests.

Although pallbearers play a vital role, they should not attract undue attention.

Their funeral attire is typically a dark suit or dress that matches or blends in with what the other pallbearers are wearing. Pallbearers are also advised to wear dark shoes that are both comfortable and sturdy. Being a pallbearer requires walking on hard surfaces, such as the sidewalk, as well as on softer surfaces, such as the ground at the gravesite.

Being a pallbearer is not a task to be taken lightly.

If you are considering asking someone to be a pallbearer or have been asked to be one yourself, take time to think it over. Not everyone is suited to the task, and that’s OK. If you are the one asking, be sure to inquire if the potential pallbearer has any concerns about their ability to fulfill their assigned duties. The more honest and open the conversation at the beginning, the more smoothly the funeral services will go.

If you have additional questions about what a pallbearer does or if you need help determining who to ask, please contact our compassionate professionals. It is our pleasure to assist you.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

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