First-Time Pallbearer
March 5, 2009 1:13 PM   Subscribe

My wife's sister died, and I've been asked to be a pallbearer. What should I know? Of what customs, rituals, or traditions should I be aware? Any tips I should know? The family is Chinese, the service will be Catholic. (I am neither.)
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (24 answers total)
Ask the priest and/or the funeral home that will be handling the ceremony. Seriously. There will likely be some "house rules" that only those people will be aware of.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:17 PM on March 5, 2009

The funeral director will tell you all you need to know. It's her job to take care of those details, and she'll pull aside the pallbearers at some point to give you instructions.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:22 PM on March 5, 2009

Have you ever been a pallbearer before? I've done it twice. Both times I was amazed at the weight of the casket, but other than that there was someone that gave a "briefing" to tell you exactly what to expect.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:23 PM on March 5, 2009

Well this might seem a little out of the realm of normal thought but...............suspenders would be a smart move. You are unlikely to be ready for the shifting you need to do to cooperate with 5 others lifting and walking with the departed in the coffin. But I would exercise caution since having your trousers going one way as your waistline goes the other due to the lifting action......ya never know.
posted by Freedomboy at 1:27 PM on March 5, 2009

Being raised catholic and having attended quite a few funerals, there isn't much to it - prayers, songs sang (you'll have something to read for the music, but you don't have to sing). Just follow along and treat it like any funeral - dress in your suit, tell the family how sorry you are for their loss, be a shoulder for your wife to cry on, be somber during the ceremony. No one will expect too much of you other than to be there, and of course, like other people said, follow the directions the funeral director gives you. Make sure your shoe laces are double knotted (sorry, couldn't help the morbid humor).
posted by lizbunny at 1:31 PM on March 5, 2009

Just seconding what everyone else is saying--the funeral director will tell you exactly what to do. He's done this hundreds of times before, and will anticipate any question you might possibly have. The casket will be surprisingly heavy, and, wow, wearing suspenders is an amazingly excellent idea. Think about your footwear, too--you'll be walking on soft ground, most likely.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:32 PM on March 5, 2009

I was asked to be a pallbearer for my girlfriend's father. Having never done it before, I was terrified. Turned out not to be too difficult, I went through the ceremony like everyone else in the funeral home, then all the pallbearers were pulled aside to carry the casket into the hearse. When we met up at the cemetery the pallbearers gathered at the hearse to carry the casket and lowered it onto the contraption that puts the casket into the ground. That was all, then I went and stood with my girlfriend and her mother.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:37 PM on March 5, 2009

Sorry for your loss.

The funeral home will coach you and the other pallbearers with what exactly to do at what time.

My only advice is to wear dress shoes with a short heel. The one time I was a pallbearer we had to walk across the turf of the cemetery which was sort of uneven. I was really worried I would trip...
posted by wfrgms at 1:49 PM on March 5, 2009

I've been a pallbearer twice, and in both cases it was very simple. I attended the service along with everyone else, and at the end we were asked to come forward. The director explained the procedure to us briefly, and lined us up, and then we picked up the casket and carried it to the hearse. Upon arrival, we lowered the casket onto the thing that lowers it into the grave. In both cases, the trips were probably less than 10 feet, and to my mind, the casket was surprisingly light. Be sure to wear a belt and make sure your shoes are tied, but there's really nothing to it.
posted by !Jim at 1:52 PM on March 5, 2009

I can't speak to a Catholic service, but I was a pallbearer at my grandfather's funeral a few months ago. None of the eight of us had ever been pallbearers before, and we'd had no real prep. With the added emotional weight of the circumstances, we were pretty bewildered. The pastor and the funeral directors had plenty of experience herding grieving assemblies though, and micromanaged us with a firm but gentle hand, explaining every step as it was about to be carried out.

Long story short, chances are that you won't have to do anything but pay attention to your handlers. Go, be supportive, listen to the funeral director. Everything will go smoothly.
posted by lekvar at 1:57 PM on March 5, 2009

Oh, and the advice about footwear is good. You'll be walking on any number of different terrains, possibly including muddy earth. If you have shoes that offer decent traction while at least looking semi-formal, wear them.

The suspenders suggestion isn't bad, either.
posted by lekvar at 2:00 PM on March 5, 2009

I've been a pallbearer before, at my father-in-law's funeral. Just dress and act dignified and everything should be fine. If you were asked, that means the deceased liked and/or respected you.
posted by jonmc at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2009

Suit should be dark. Overcoat should be dark. Hat should be dark, preferably a cossack hat of the Ambassador style.

The funeral director will be running everything. Follow his or her lead.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2009

What jonmc said. And also, the odds are good that you won't actually be CARRYING the casket very much - the caskets in the three funerals for which I have been a pallbearer all rested on a wheeled cart, and were placed on the cart from the back of the hearse (which has a sliding mechanism to roll the casket out), so I wasn't so much carrying the casket as guiding it down the aisle.

You will probably be required to carry it from hearse to graveside, if the family's doing a public service at the grave site (not every funeral does both church service and graveside, that's family choice), but even still it won't be too far.

But yeah, the funeral director will know all the details, and will prepare all of you for what it is you need to do.
posted by pdb at 3:05 PM on March 5, 2009

If you've never been to a Catholic funeral service before, brace yourself for the open casket (if her family decides to honor that tradition).
posted by availablelight at 3:19 PM on March 5, 2009

I've been pallbearer for all three of my grandparents' funerals. I echo the comments about just following the directions of the funeral director. I never thought about the double knotting of shoes but that is a good idea.

Depending on the relative location of the service and the cemetery you might have to transfer the casket to a hearse. In that case be aware that you'll have to be careful of the door. If you are at the front of the casket you can get bunched up against the door as the casket slides in. Same thing the other direction when you get to the cemetery.

Overall, be ready to lift a very heavy object and willing to follow directions quickly without question. While these are not normally skills I excel at, I always feel it is an honor.
posted by mshellenberger at 4:07 PM on March 5, 2009

The only advice I would have liked before doing it for the first time was to be prepared to start bawling as soon as I took the weight. But I think I was the only one, and it didn't stop me from carrying out my duties.

Get a good grip, be careful not to stand on the guy in front's heels, take careful measured steps, and don't worry about dropping the casket, it's not going to happen.
posted by The Monkey at 5:23 PM on March 5, 2009

huh. i was a pallbearer for my grandma's funeral. i received no instruction from anyone. no funeral director, no pastor, nothing. just "you're going to be the pallbearer, so get up there when it's time." and that came from my parents. so, don't count on someone being there to tell you what to do.

you have no idea how heavy those caskets are. i was very surprised, and ended up fucking up my already injured back when i went to lift it. i mean, really, those things are HEAVY.

wear flats if you are a woman. we just had to carry it to the hearse (and maybe from the hearse to the burial plot, but that was the next day or something, and i had to catch a flight back to work). but a lot of people have to carry it over grass, and ice, and snow and all that, so you don't want to break and ankle on your high heels and then have a casket fall on top of you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:51 PM on March 5, 2009

Nothing specific to know- except coffins are really heavy- they are often made from particle board. So be prepared.
posted by mattoxic at 6:21 PM on March 5, 2009

I was a pall bearer for my grandfather. No one gave us very much instruction either. The services were Catholic; for my family, this meant a rosary on Friday, a Mass on Saturday, and a burial on Sunday. We're not Chinese though. I carried his coffin with my brother and cousins on both Saturday and Sunday. So you might ask if this is a job you will have for more than one day.

On Saturday, someone thought ahead to put the stronger of the pall bearers at the front left and back right; on Sunday we forgot to distribute the strength and the weight was literally almost unbearable for me. (Granted, this was an emotionally exhausting weekend anyway.)

We were also expected to bring the gifts (communion paraphernalia, basically) to the front during the beginning of the Mass. We were also totally unprepared for that and made a delightfully memorable mess of it. Pampo would have been proud.

Mostly, just go with the flow and do the best you can. You should be able to get some information on the process beforehand if you have a chance to ask. I'm sorry for your family's loss.
posted by juliplease at 8:17 PM on March 5, 2009

It was like being president of the United States. (Ok, like W. not O.) I had the general idea of what was to happen and the handlers told us what to do and how. In some cases, they put the coffin on a rolling metal gurney type thing and all you have to do is push/pull it to the hearse. Wear rubber soled shoes if you can to prevent slipping.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:39 PM on March 5, 2009

Personally, I found the weight of the casket not too bad, thanks to the 5 other people helping to carry the load. Not that it was light, it just wasn't unbearably heavy.

I don't recall receiving any instruction (but it's been almost 10 years now), but it's not as if there's a lot to it. Pick up casket, walk to hearse, place head of casket on rails in hearse, slide casket forward. Reverse at grave site.
posted by wierdo at 10:39 PM on March 5, 2009

I carried my Grandmother's coffin with some of my cousins and uncles about 4 months ago. Make sure you are paired with someone of the same size as you. Once you are in a good height order it is fairly stright-forward. The two bits of advice that the undertakers gave us was to make sure that we kept in step, this avoids the coffin swaying and keeps you at a steady pace. Also if you link your arms with the person on the other side to you it makes it easier on your shoulder taking the weight and you keep moving as a unit. Supporting the coffin like this means you should have it well-balanced and shouldn't need to put your outside hand up at all to steady it. I found the weight to be not so much of a problem.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by multivalent at 7:07 AM on March 6, 2009

My condolences for your family's loss.

The only thing I can add is that its worth double checking that cell phones are either off or set to silent mode. On the way to graveside is an awkward time to share your tastes in ringtones with everyone else.

Especially if your phone is set to something like "Mexican Hat Dance".
posted by cpdavy at 7:19 AM on March 6, 2009

« Older How often should I post to maintain an audience?   |   Fun adult ESL activities for tutoring or classes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.