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Featured FAQ: Why do we have pallbearers?

August 15, 2018

A long-standing tradition, pallbearers are ceremonial escorts in charge of carrying the casket from the funeral service to the burial. It is an honor to be chosen as a pallbearer and a way of paying deep respect to the deceased by carrying the remains to the final resting place. Having pallbearers is an opportunity for families to bestow a distinctive honor on those who were special to their loved one and offers a means for those close to the deceased to take part in the services.

Marine and Navy officers act as pallbearers during a funeral service.

“It is one of those honors that a person never forgets, especially if the deceased was a close family member or friend,” said Co-President John Keohane. “When a service is about to begin the family always finds great comfort in the fact that a select group of individuals will be side by side with the deceased as they enter the service and also escort them on the way out.”

Whether there is a closed or open casket at the funeral, pallbearers are responsible for the transportation of the casket. At the end of the service, pallbearers carry the casket from the service to the hearse. Once at the cemetery, these escorts remove the casket from the hearse and carry it to the gravesite. Generally, there are six to eight pallbearers who carry the deceased using handles on either side of the casket. In some cultures, pallbearers may carry the casket upon their shoulders. The term “pallbearer” comes from the use of a pall, which is a heavy funeral cloth spread over the casket. Therefore, the pallbearer is someone who “bears” or carries the casket which is covered by the pall.

An Important Choice

Selecting pallbearers is an important decision when making arrangements for a funeral. If your loved one did not make arrangements in advance, the family must make those critical decisions. When choosing pallbearers, think about those who were near and dear to your loved one. Pallbearers are usually family members, close friends, or colleagues of the deceased. Pallbearers could also be designated from a group or club associated with the deceased, such as a branch of the military or a civic organization. In order to lift and carry the weight of the casket, pallbearers have traditionally been men. But in modern times, pallbearers can be either male or female, young or old.

You can also designate honorary pallbearers to accompany your loved one by walking or riding behind or in front of the casket as it is being moved. This may be someone who might not be able to carry the casket, but the family still wants to be involved with the service.

Take time to consider all your options so that you can truly memorialize your loved one and bestow honors on those closest to him or her. Also consider the emotions of your pallbearers. If someone might be overcome with grief during the services, that person may not be the best choice as a pallbearer.

An Important Honor

Serving as a pallbearer is a high honor and an important responsibility to be treated with solemnity and respect. You will be carrying out one of the most important roles of the funeral service. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to the funeral director who can provide advice and instruct you on your duties. Once you know what to expect, you might feel more comfortable in accepting the role.

Plan to arrive early so you don’t have to stress about getting to the service on time. There is often an area near the front reserved for the pallbearers to sit. If so, it’s best to sit with the other pallbearers during the service.

You should dress conservatively and respectfully – a dark suit and tie for a man and a dark suit or dress for a woman. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes in case you must carry the casket over uneven terrain. But don’t worry about dropping the casket or making an error. The staff will instruct you on how to carry the casket safely and carefully. And there will be five or more other pallbearers to help with the task.

Remember that the family has placed their trust in you to carry their loved one as a final act of love. A high honor indeed!

If you have any questions about pallbearers, please contact one of our knowledgeable funeral directors at any of our locations or call our main office at 1-800-Keohane (800-536-4263).

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