What to know when selecting pallbearers

  • Pallbearers help carry the coffin or casket.

  • You’ll typically need around six to eight pallbearers.

  • Pallbearers can be anyone who had a close relationship with your loved one.

  • You can also name people as symbolic pallbearers who will not be carrying the casket, or even at ceremonies with no casket present.

When you’re planning the funeral of a loved one, there is a litany of decisions and arrangements that need to be made, including whether or not to use pallbearers during the ceremony. 

Pallbearers are the people who help carry the coffin or casket, and they are often used in traditional funerals. The role can be an opportunity for them to honor the person who has passed and to support their friends and family during the grieving process. 

Born out of a long history, pallbearers have customarily been men. They are also traditionally not members of the person’s immediate family, who are generally expected to be mourning in other ways or to fill other roles. Today, however, in most cases anyone who wants to take on a key role in saying goodbye to the person can be a potential pallbearer. 

It might seem like a daunting task to choose the right people to fill this ceremonial role, but there are a few key considerations to reflect on when making your decision. 

How many pallbearers do you need?

Since the pallbearers are expected to carry your loved one’s casket, you’ll typically need around six to eight able-bodied people who can handle carrying a heavy load. Adult caskets can weigh anywhere from 200 to 400 pounds. You’ll also want to assess any irregularities pallbearers might need to navigate, like rough terrain or awkward stairs.

A funeral director should be able to help you understand the specific needs of the ceremony, taking into account the weight of the casket and details about navigating the building and surrounding areas. 

Choosing who fills the role

Once you know how many people you’ll need, you’ll need to choose them. Being a part of the funeral is often a great honor for those closest to the person, so be prepared for emotions to run high around roles and requests. 

Pallbearers are traditionally adult grandchildren, cousins, in-laws, and/or very close friends, but they can really be anyone who had a close relationship with your loved one and who may have expressed interest in being a part of the ceremony. Though a less traditional choice, you may want to include the siblings or adult children of your loved one, if they feel up to the task. 

Because the pallbearers are an important element of the funeral running smoothly, you might also consider qualities in your choices like punctuality, reliability, and demeanor. 

Being a part of the funeral is often a special honor, so be prepared for emotions to run high around roles and requests. 

Religious traditions can also be a factor when choosing pallbearers. In ceremonies such as Jewish funerals and U.S. military funerals, a pallbearer might have extra responsibilities, like handling an actual pall (a specially prepared cloth or a flag, in these examples).

Be sure to ask your prospects about their level of comfort and availability to take on the role. Some people on your list may not feel that being a pallbearer is the right fit for them, or the right way for them to say goodbye.

Keep in mind that pallbearers are just one of the many roles in a funeral. If a family member or close friend is upset at not being selected as a pallbearer, there is probably another way that they can express their remembrance during the ceremony. 

Alternatives to pallbearers

If you’re not holding a traditional funeral, or do not plan having the casket carried out of the church or funeral home, you may still want to name close friends or relatives as pallbearers for the ceremony.

In instances like this, they can fulfill the role in a symbolic way, such as carrying framed photos of your loved one to a designated place at the front of the service, or holding flower arrangements as part of a procession. 

Even if you do have pallbearers who carry the casket, these can also be options for including people close to the departed who might not be able to shoulder the weight of the casket but would still like to be included in the ceremony. 

No matter how you choose to remember your loved one or who fulfills roles in the ceremony, know that funerals and memorials mean different things to different people. It can be difficult to separate ourselves from our relationships and our expectations in moments of grief, but the ceremony is truly all about the person you love and want to remember together. Try to honor that as best you can, including choosing pallbearers who reflect the person’s most important relationships ●