Pallbearers are those people chosen to carry a casket or coffin at the funeral service. It is customary for six or eight people – traditionally men, albeit this stereotype is changing – to be selected for this role. Those chosen will usually hold the strongest relations to the deceased, although sometimes professional pallbearers are engaged for the role. In many instances, family or friends will act as pallbearers, so if you are nominated by the family of the deceased, it should be viewed as an honour to take on such a duty.
With that said, not everyone feels comfortable taking on this role, be it for personal reasons or due to the strength required to carry the coffin. In such instances, it is best to advise the bereaved about your decision well in advance. It goes without saying that this should be done in a gracious and respectful manner.
If you are the one tasked with selecting the pallbearers, you want to ensure that the people you are nominating are in good physical health and have no issues walking. If you speak with your funeral director, there may be the option to utilise a trolley to move the coffin, albeit this is less common.
When inviting someone to be a pallbearer you also want to ensure that they are well equipped to cope with the moment emotionally. If they are not in this position, or advise you of such, it’s important to understand things from their perspective. You also have the option of nominating them as an honorary pallbearer, whereby you recognise their involvement in the funeral, their connection to the deceased, or the role they would have taken on should they have not otherwise been impeded by an unavoidable factor.
On the day of the service
If you have never acted as a pallbearer, the funeral director should be able to walk you through the process and provide some guidance on what to expect. It is important that all pallbearers arrive earlier than other guests so that they can receive instructions on the procedure, involving specific details concerning their positioning, the path to follow and whether the coffin will be carried back to a hearse after the service for burial off-site which is often the case in Sydney.
Since this is an event that few undertake in their lives, don’t hesitate to ask any questions of the funeral director. Ultimately however, take solace in the fact that you were selected by the bereaved and that they acknowledge your special connection to the deceased.