Quick Guide To Funeral Pallbearers

Funeral Pallbearers
Pallbearers are individuals chosen to carry the casket at a funeral. They may transport the casket several times in the burial process and are the ones who place it on the lift that lowers it into the ground. Often, family and close friends, pallbearers wear white gloves to ensure the casket does not get damaged.

A pallbearer who carries the casket has a key role to play in any funeral, and it is important to choose the right individuals for this task. Pallbearing is a job that comes with honor and distinction but also responsibility and duty. In part, the job may be ceremonial, but carrying a heavy coffin is hard work.

The term “pallbearer” refers to “bearing the pall,” a decorative cloth used to drape the casket. In the Middle Ages, a group of men grasped the four corners of the pall, while others did the more laborious task of bearing the casket.

pallbearers carrying body

What Is The Job Of A Funeral Pallbearer?

Funeral pallbearers have important duties to fulfill during the funeral process as they are responsible for transporting the coffin throughout the service.

Their job often begins with arriving at the funeral home before the funeral service to lift the coffin into the hearse for the journey to the church. The pallbearers remove the casket from the vehicle, carry it into the venue, and put into position for the service. After the service, the pallbearers carry the casket back to the hearse where it is then taken to the cemetery where they carry it to the gravesite.

Today, the casket is often positioned on a wheeled bier, so that the pallbearers may be able to push the casket along part of the way. As modern caskets have handles, the pallbearers may be able to carry the burial container at waist height, although carrying it on the shoulders is common in some cultures.

Who Is Chosen To Be A Pallbearer?

The family member responsible for funeral planning usually chooses close relatives and friends to accompany the deceased to their final resting place. Those close to the departed may feel it is an honor to be with their loved one as they mark the end of their physical presence on earth.

The job can be an emotional one. Members of the immediate family who are already overwhelmed with grief are usually not chosen for the task.

What Are The Qualifications To Be A Pallbearer?

There are no qualifications for role of a pallbearer except that they be emotionally and physically fit to complete the job.

Ideally, those chosen as active pallbearers will be physically strong enough for the task. Caskets can be heavy, depending on the size, so individuals should be capable of lifting the weight of the casket and walking with it at waist height for moderate distances,

Those who were close to the deceased but not in good health can be given the title of honorary pallbearers who walk near the casket at a traditional funeral but do no lifting.

The funeral director can supplement the crew with additional pallbearers if necessary.

Men, women, and older children alike can be pallbearers. It is essential to pick people who are able to keep their emotions in check through the proceedings.

pallbearers at gravesite

How Many Pallbearers Are Needed?

The number of funeral pallbearers needed will vary depending on the size of the coffin and the specifics of the funeral service.

There are traditionally six handles around the sides of a coffin, and one in the front and back. This will often lead to people choosing six pallbearers for smaller caskets and eight people for larger caskets.

Are Pallbearers Needed After Cremation?

Pallbearers are not needed for cremation services, although honorary pallbearers may walk alongside and behind the person carrying the urn filled with the ashes from the service.

There is no limit to the number of honorary pallbearers that can be selected for a cremation service or any memorial service where there is no body.

How Do Pallbearers Dress?

Being a pallbearer is a position that requires modesty. Conservative and appropriate funeral attire is the norm for both men and women. Traditionally, men wear a dark-colored suit and tie, and women wear a darker-colored skirt suit, pantsuit, or dress.

As pallbearers may be required to walk across uneven or rough terrain, wearing comfortable, sturdy shoes is essential. Shoes should still remain formal and appropriate for funeral ceremonies, but heels or open-toed shoes might not be up to the task.

They may wear white gloves to honor the deceased person and protect the casket.

pallbearers at child's funeral

What Is Appropriate Pallbearer Etiquette?

As funeral pallbearing is an honor, those chosen should take the job seriously by following basic funeral etiquette. Pallbearers should:

  • Be on time for the service.
  • Be able to accommodate directions from the family or funeral directors and staff.
  • Be supportive of family members and should not attract undue attention to themselves.
  • Observe the dress code of conservative dress in dark suits or dresses

Pallbearers can offer condolences to family members, close friends of the deceased person, and other mourners as well.


Carol Farrish is a lifelong writer on diverse topics. Not quite ready to be a customer of the funeral industry for herself yet, she comes from a large family with over two dozen aunts and uncles who survived well into their 80s and 90s. She is a keen observer of the industry after having attended and participated in many funeral and memorial services for family, church friends, and business associates. Not a traditional person herself, she understands the importance of ritual, especially when death strikes a loved one.

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