If you’ve been asked to be a pallbearer, you’ll probably have questions about what to expect. We’ve answered the most common questions, so you can feel prepared for your role.
What is a pallbearer?
Pallbearers carry or escort the coffin during the funeral and burial or cremation service. They’re sometimes also called coffin bearers. You’ll usually be expected to carry the coffin in a slow and steady procession.
There are actually three main types of pallbearer:
Regular pallbearers are family or friends of the person who has died. They’re chosen by the family.
These are usually provided by the funeral director. They will carry the coffin if family and friends don’t feel able to. They are also be used at very formal funerals.
Honorary pallbearers follow directly behind the coffin but don’t carry it. The family might ask you to do this role if you were close to the person who died, but aren’t able to carry the coffin.
How many pallbearers are needed at a funeral?
There are usually 6 to 8 pallbearers at a funeral. However, it does depend on the size and weight of the coffin.
Can women be pallbearers?
Yes. It’s a common misunderstanding that only men can be pallbearers. Actually, anyone can be a pallbearer as long as they feel able to do it. Today, female pallbearers are becoming more and more common. Although they’re not new – in 1768 there were female pallbearers at the royal funeral of Princess Louisa-Anne.
Do you have pallbearers at a cremation?
Yes, you can have pallbearers at any part of the funeral where the coffin will need to be carried, including the cremation.
What should a pallbearer wear?
Usually you’ll wear a suit in a black or dark colour. However, less traditional funeral clothing is becoming more popular. So it’s best to ask the family or funeral director what the pallbearer dress code is.
You’ll also want to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes in case you’re walking across uneven ground.
Will I have to carry the coffin?
Not necessarily. It depends on what the person planning the funeral chooses. Traditionally it was popular for pallbearers to carry the coffin on their shoulders. Today it’s common to carry the coffin by the handles on the side or to escort it on a bier, which has wheels to make it easier to move. The funeral director will recommend the safest option, based on the route and the people carrying the coffin.
If you’re asked to be an honorary pallbearer you won’t need to carry the coffin at all. You’ll just walk behind it.
What’s the correct way to carry a coffin?
It’s natural to feel nervous about carrying a coffin. There are actually a few different ways to do it, depending on the weight, the number of people carrying it and the route that you need to walk. You might carry it by the handles, for example, or use a bier which has wheels to make it easier.
The most important thing is to carry it safely and steadily. On the day, the funeral director will be on hand to tell you how to carry a coffin and to make sure it’s done with care and respect.
Do I need to arrive early to the funeral?
It’s a good idea to arrive at the funeral early so you have time to talk to the funeral director and other pallbearers. You’ll agree things like:
- How to carry the coffin (on shoulders, by the handles or on a bier)
- Where you will stand when you’re carrying the coffin
- The route you’ll walk along
You’ll also want to practise walking along your route so you know if there are any steps or other things to be careful of.
Should I be a pallbearer?
Being a pallbearer can be tough physically or emotionally. Before accepting the role, have a think about if it’s right for you. You might choose not to be a pallbearer if:
- You don’t feel you’re physically strong enough to carry the casket
- You have a physical condition that could be harmed by heavy lifting (e.g. back problems or pregnancy)
- You’re worried that you may feel too emotional on the day
If you do decide to be a pallbearer, remember that the funeral director is usually on hand on the day to help the pallbearers carry the casket in a safe and steady way. They’ll also answer any last-minute questions you have about what to do.
Is it rude to turn down being a pallbearer?
It can feel difficult to turn down being a pallbearer. But if you decide it’s not right for you, it’s important you tell the person organising the funeral as soon as possible. Most people will understand your decision – after all, they don’t want someone carrying the coffin if they don’t feel up to it.
If you want, you could offer to help out with another part of the funeral instead. This means you can still show your respect and your support for the family.
Got more questions about what to expect at a funeral? Learn more about what to wear to a funeral or read our guide to funeral etiquette.