Who Carries the Casket at a Funeral? | Everything You Need to Know about Pallbearers + Tips for Choosing Them

Carrying the casket is one of the most moving parts of a funeral that always evokes sadness. If you’re currently arranging a funeral, you may wonder who is responsible for carrying a casket. 

We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’re answering all your questions concerning carrying caskets at funerals—who carries a casket, how they carry it, how many people are required, where they carry it, how to choose the ones who will carry it, and more.

With that being said, let’s get right into it. 

Who Carries the Casket at a Funeral?

The people who carry or escort the casket at a funeral service are known as pallbearers. A pallbearer was traditionally the person who carried the pall, which is the cloth that’s put over the casket. The role of pallbearers has gradually changed over time until pallbearers become the ones responsible for carrying or escorting the casket. 

carrying casket

Today, their role has become more simple and symbolic: to convey their respect and affection for the deceased while carrying their casket. A pallbearer is one of several individuals who assist in carrying the casket at a funeral. 

You may notice that pallbearers wear white gloves sometimes. They do so to show respect for the deceased and protect the casket simultaneously. 

Finally, because pallbearers are the ones whose main mission is to carry the casket, there’s no point in choosing pallbearers if there’s no casket. Pallbearers should only be present if there’s a casket. 

Is Pallbearer a Casket Bearer?

A pallbearer and casket bearer is not the same in some traditions. A casket bearer, in this case, does the actual heavy lifting, while the pallbearer only carries a tip of the pall or a cord. If the coffin is carried by a vehicle or an animal, there may still be pallbearers, but their role would be only symbolic.

Can Anyone be a Pallbearer?

In Western traditions, the pallbearers are typically members of the deceased’s family, friends, or coworkers. Females don’t usually carry the casket—pallbearer is a position that is usually restricted to males. The funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald was a notable exception, where more reporters than mourners helped carry the casket.

Pallbearers are not always family members in some African societies; instead, they can be paid employees of funeral homes. 

  • Note: The funeral director can offer pallbearers if those who organized the funeral don’t know the right person to ask.

How and Where Do Pallbearers Carry a Casket?

The coffin is carried either by the waist of the pallbearers or on their shoulders, depending on the culture. Pallbearers carry it from the hearse into the crematorium, church, or funeral service venue. Afterward, they carry the casket to the burial site or return it to the hearse.

While it’s not always essential to help in carrying the coffin, people are sometimes asked to serve as pallbearers to show their love and respect for the deceased.

How Many Pallbearers are Required?

In most cases, 4 or 6 pallbearers are responsible for carrying the coffin, depending on the handles on the coffin chosen for the deceased. If there are two handles on each end and three on each side, the number of pallbearers can increase to 8. 

What is an Honorary Pallbearer?

Serving as a pallbearer is an honor for many people, especially if the deceased is someone who they truly cared about and loved. Sometimes, people close to the deceased walk beside the coffin while it’s carried if they’re not physically able to carry the casket. 

Honorary Pallbearer

This person is called an honorary pallbearer, someone who doesn’t actually carry the coffin but is still recognized in some fashion. This title is typically given to older family members or friends who cannot carry the casket themselves. 

There’s no restriction whatsoever on who may serve as an honorary pallbearer. Additionally, you can designate the people you wish to be the pallbearers at your funeral.

How to Choose a Pallbearer?

The planning and execution of a funeral or wake need extensive coordination. It can be extremely overwhelming to pick pallbearers during this difficult time because not everyone is qualified to carry your loved one for the last time.

Choosing a trustworthy pallbearer can be an absolute hassle—there are several factors that you should consider when trying to select the persons who will carry the casket of your loved ones. 

As already mentioned, both men and women can serve as pallbearers, but before you ask anyone to do so, you should consider the height of the pallbearer if the casket will be carried on the shoulders. You should also consider the physical strength of the pallbearer because not everyone can carry a casket. Additionally, it’s important to consider how far the casket will be carried

You can learn about all of these details from the funeral director. If you think your family members can’t serve as pallbearers for any reason, you can ask the funeral director to provide trustworthy pallbearers to carry the coffin at the funeral. 

What’s Expected from a Pallbearer?

Carrying the casket of a deceased person can be a traumatic experience for some people, which makes it difficult for them to accept the role of a pallbearer at a funeral. However, it’s a real honor to be able to carry the casket of your loved one in these final moments, and we strongly encourage you to play this important role at the funeral if the deceased is someone you truly love and care about. 

But before you decide you take on responsibility for carrying a coffin at a funeral, you must first be aware of what’s expected from you as a pallbearer. For example, if you were asked to serve as a pallbearer, it’s always a good idea to be one of the first people who arrive at the funeral. Doing so will ensure that you learn the correct method of carrying the casket from the funeral director. 

man carrying casket

While you’ll be required to assist in carrying the coffin at the funeral, if wheel biers are being used, your assistance may only be needed for a short period. It’s possible that the family will want you to shoulder the casket; however, this will only happen if there is no risk of doing this. If you feel that you can’t shoulder the casket, it will either be put on wheel biers or carried at waist height.

You’re also expected to stand in silence at the back of the hearse when you arrive at the place of worship or crematorium. You should face forward with your hands held on the other and your feet shoulder-width apart.

If the casket is being transported with a wheeled bier, you’re expected to walk with one hand on the handle of the casket and put your other hand behind your back. Finally, you’re expected to bow to the casket for 4 seconds when instructed by the funeral director before leaving the chapel.

Here are some other important tips to help you serve as a pallbearer at a funeral:

  • Dress formally.
  • Arrive a little early at the funeral.
  • Carry the casket with respect.
  • Show respect towards others. Arrive a little early at the funeral.
  • Walk slowly
  • Don’t laugh or talk loudly
  • Follow the instructions of the funeral director.

Remember, no one’s forcing you to carry the coffin of your loved one, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t feel comfortable doing so—simply let the family know that you’re not comfortable serving as a pallbearer and decline the offer. Do so politely to ensure you don’t offend anyone during this difficult time. 

Final Thoughts

The role of pallbearers is one of the most important at a funeral. This is why you should wisely choose the people who you really trust to play it. They don’t have to be family members or close friends if they’re not comfortable doing so or just have physical barriers like height or strength. You can always seek the help of your funeral director to provide trusted pallbearers. 

The most important thing to focus on is to honor your loved one by picking the people who will carry their casket with respect in these touching, final moments. This way, you won’t feel guilty or regret doing (or not doing) anything later, and you’ll ensure that your loved one can finally rest in peace.

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