Planning a funeral isn’t a one-person job. As you go about planning the funeral for a loved one, you’ll find that many people will become involved. Some may help you gather photos to display around the funeral home. You may invite others to do a reading or sing a song during the ceremony. And some people will become pallbearers.
But how do you know who to ask to be a pallbearer for your loved one’s funeral? Here are a few things that you should consider.
How to Choose the Pallbearers for a Loved One’s Funeral
1. Confirm with the funeral home how many pallbearers will be needed.
A pallbearer is tasked with carrying the casket to the service location from the hearse and vice versa. In general, depending on the casket’s design, you’ll likely need six to eight pallbearers. Before asking anyone to be a pallbearer, be sure that you know how many you’ll need. Your funeral home will be able to answer questions about the weight of the casket and how many pallbearers will be able to carry it.
2. Consider the physical requirements of carrying the casket.
A wooden casket alone may weigh between 150 and 250 pounds. When you add the decedent, that weight could double. Although pallbearers don’t typically have to carry the casket for longer than 15 minutes, moving that much weight even for a short amount of time can be incredibly difficult. Be sure that whoever you ask is prepared to carry that much. Likely, someone who is too young or too elderly will not be able to handle the casket’s weight, but there may be other reasons why someone might not be up to the task.
3. Don’t forget about the emotional requirements.
There are many differing opinions about how close the pallbearers should be to the decedent. Often, very close family members are not selected to be pallbearers because of the emotional distress they’re experiencing from the loss of their loved one. Someone who is very strongly mourning may have trouble carrying the casket as grief overtakes them. Additionally, the position of pallbearer is a very public one. There will be many eyes on them as they move the coffin. Some people may become embarrassed if grief overtakes them while they’re trying to fulfill their duty. Be sure that the people you ask are aware that this position can be taxing both physically and emotionally.
4. Have both backup and honorary pallbearers.
Although you hope that the day of the funeral will go by smoothly, there’s always the potential for something to go awry. If one of your pallbearers suddenly falls ill or cannot carry the casket for another reason, it’s a good idea to ask backup pallbearers to be available. Just be sure that they know that they have to be prepared if they’re needed at the last minute. You may also want to offer that if they are not required to carry the casket after all, they can also be honorary pallbearers. Honorary pallbearers walk either ahead of or just behind the coffin. This is also a good position for someone who was particularly close to the decedent but who cannot handle the strain of carrying the casket. If you’re concerned that someone who wants to be a pallbearer isn’t a good fit, talk to your funeral director. They may have suggestions on other ways for the person to be included.
5. Only choose people who you trust to be reliable.
For the original, backup, and honorary pallbearers, ensure that they are aware that they may have to arrive at the funeral home early. If you know that someone has a habit of being late or backing out at the last minute for events, they probably shouldn’t be chosen as pallbearers. The day of the funeral can be very stressful, and having pallbearers arriving late or not at all can make that strain much worse. Do confirmation check-ins with your pallbearers in the week leading up to the funeral to ensure they’re ready for what’s being asked of them and aware of what time they will be needed at the funeral home.
Pallbearers carry a lot of weight, both physically and emotionally, so it’s essential that you know you’re picking people who are up to the challenge. Make sure that everyone who is chosen is aware of what’s being required of them, but just in case someone isn’t able to perform on the day, always have backups waiting to help. For those who want to be a pallbearer but aren’t able to handle the emotional or physical stress, honorary pallbearer is a valued and cherished position. A pallbearer of any kind is an integral part of the funeral procession, so be sure that you’re choosing people who understand why what they’re doing matters.