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Tips and Advice for Pallbearers

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Serving as a pallbearer is a serious job, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming...

If you've been asked to be a pallbearer for a funeral, you're probably feeling mixed emotions. You may know it's a real honor to serve as a pallbearer, but any pride you may be feeling for being chosen is probably tempered by the grief you're feeling after the death of a friend or family member. If you've never been a pallbearer before, you may be feeling nervous and uncertain on top of that.

Serving as a pallbearer is a serious job, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. It can be easier for you if you follow our tips and advice:

1. Dress conservatively.

Although our society has become more casual over the years and dress codes aren't as important as they once were, this does not apply for funerals — and especially not for pallbearers. This is a somber ceremony and most people there are likely to see you, so make sure you are dressed in a manner that conveys your respect.

For men, a dark, solid-colored suit and white shirt, with a tie that isn't too colorful or flashy, is the safest bet. Women should wear a dark suit or dress. Pants aren't inappropriate for women, as long as the full outfit is tidy and conservative.

Before you leave the house, make sure your clothes are clean and ironed, and use a lint roller to remove any pet hair or other debris. If you'll be driving a long distance straight to the funeral, you might want to bring your clothing and change there, if possible, to prevent your clothes from wrinkling en route. 

2. Wear tidy, sensible shoes.

Your choice of shoes matters, too. Ideally, you will wear dress shoes that are in good condition and shined if need be. You may be walking on grass — or snow, in wintertime — so wear shoes that have a sole that's less likely to slip. Women pallbearers, you may want to avoid high heels unless it's a shoe you feel very confident and stable wearing, even on grass or snow. 

3. Arrive early.

You may be asked to arrive at the funeral early so the funeral director can offer a few instructions. If so, be sure to arrive at or before the time specified. Even if you're not asked to arrive early, it's best to be extra punctual — and give yourself extra time to get there, in case of unexpected traffic or closures on your route.

4. Turn off your phone.

This should be a general rule for anyone attending a funeral, but it's especially important for a pallbearer. If your phone suddenly rings while you're carrying the casket, you won't be able to answer it, and the ringtone will be distracting and embarrassing. Turn it off before the services begin.

5. Follow instructions.

When funeral home staff tells you what to do and where to go, listen closely and do as you're asked. Even if you think your way is better — the funeral director has done this many times and knows best.

6. Be prepared for heavy lifting.

The job of the pallbearers is to carry the casket between the hearse and the funeral location(s). This could take place over several steps if visitation, funeral, and burial are all public events in separate places. Sometimes, the pallbearers lift the casket onto and off of a rolling gurney, rather than carrying it any distance. 

Regardless, you will be partially responsible for at least briefly carrying a heavy casket alongside several other pallbearers. If you don't think you're physically capable of doing this, you should make it known when you're asked to be a pallbearer. The family might designate you an honorary pallbearer instead, in which case you would walk next to or behind the casket as the other pallbearers carry it. This is still a position of honor.

If you're concerned that your hands might get sweaty while you're carrying the casket, you might consider wearing gloves to prevent them from slipping.

7. Walk slowly and carefully.

While you're carrying the casket, it's a good idea to walk slowly for two reasons. First, this is a respectful way to proceed, whereas hurrying suggests you don't care about the job at hand. Second, you'll be carrying that heavy casket while walking very close to the other pallbearers. If you're trying to move too quickly or take unnecessarily large steps, you might jostle another pallbearer or step on their heel.

If everybody takes it slow, you'll work well together. If one of the pallbearers stumbles, everyone should stop for long enough to allow them to regain their footing, then proceed.

8. Try to keep your emotions in check.

This step isn't always easy. It's likely that you're serving as pallbearer at the funeral of someone who meant a lot to you — otherwise, you probably wouldn't have been asked to serve. But you will find it's more difficult to carry out the tasks of a pallbearer if you're overcome with emotion and crying uncontrollably.

No one will fault you for letting a few tears slip, but if you're concerned you won't be able to do your duty without heavy crying, you might want to decline the invitation to be a pallbearer. It's best to keep a straight face.

This applies to the other side of the emotional spectrum, too. You should take care not to act too lighthearted, joke around, or laugh inappropriately while you're serving as pallbearer. On this most solemn of occasions, your great sense of humor is unlikely to be seen as respectful.

9. Sit or stand in your assigned place.

During the funeral service, there will probably be seats reserved for the pallbearers. At graveside services, you may be asked to stand in a designated area as an honor guard. There may be a special car or cars to take pallbearers to graveside services.

Wherever funeral home staff has asked you to sit, stand, or ride, be sure to go there. If you have small children who will need someone to care for them at the services, arrange for this ahead of time.

10. Stay late to support the family.

A pallbearer shouldn't rush to leave as soon as services are over. Instead, stick around for a bit and offer comfort and support to the family. This is an ideal time to say a few words to them about what the deceased meant to you. You can also offer to help with any cleanup or taking things out to cars.


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