Afterthoughts

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Pallbearing – what do you need to know?

In a traditional funeral setting, four to six pallbearers will usually carry or escort the coffin from the funeral director’s hearse, into the funeral venue. If the person is being buried, then the pallbearers will also accompany the coffin to the graveside – it’s an honour to be asked, but you might not be sure about what’s involved. We can help.

What is a pall, exactly?

You might know it better as a flag or cloth – particularly if you think about military funerals, in which a piece of cloth (usually a flag), is draped over the coffin out of respect while it’s being moved. A pall is simply a piece of cloth.

Originally, a pallbearer would have been responsible for helping to carry that cloth – over the coffin – while coffin-bearers would move the actual body. Today, funeral directors often use the term pallbearer; it’s a huge privilege to be involved in this way, but it doesn’t mean you need to worry about being able to lift or shoulder a coffin.

What would you need to do?

At most funerals, the funeral director will have an experienced team who’ll carry the coffin into the service, and out again, to the graveside. As a pallbearer in that situation, you’ll be walking alongside or just behind the coffin, simply as a mark of respect. But you might want or be asked to be a little more involved:

  • You’ll travel to the funeral venue separately, but then meet up with the funeral director. Most pallbearers feel it’s appropriate to wear something quite formal. If you’re unsure, talk to the funeral director beforehand – it’s their job to help you and reassure you.
  • At the venue, the funeral directors will explain what’s happening. You might be involved in carrying the coffin itself – there’ll never be any pressure to do this – or you might have agreed to walk alongside, or just behind the coffin. 
  • When the coffin is lifted from the hearse, your role begins. There’s no rush, and there’s no need to worry about anyone looking at you – everyone will be thinking about the person who has died. Moving slowly, you’ll accompany the coffin into the venue.

After the service, you might be asked to do the same thing in reverse. Depending on whether or not this is a funeral or a cremation, the coffin may be carried out to the graveside or taken back to the hearse.

Who can be a pallbearer?

Anyone can be a pallbearer, male or female, young or old. If you’d like to nominate your pallbearers in advance, or you’re wondering who would be best for this role at a funeral you’re helping to organise – the best thing to do is to talk to the people you have in mind.

It doesn’t have to be close family. In fact, many people choose their friends, work or service colleagues to be pallbearers – because it helps them to be involved and it frees up the family completely.

Some youngsters might not be sure, but there’s absolutely no reason why even mature young children couldn’t be honorary pallbearers, if that’s appropriate. Ultimately, it’s up to you. When you talk to us about buying a Safe Hands funeral plan, we can recommend a local funeral director who has experience, helping you to choose pallbearers. Whatever you feel is appropriate, we’re here to talk you through the options.