Another word describe something very similar to a pallbearer
June 18, 2012 11:12 PM   Subscribe

Is there a term other than "pallbearer" for someone who carries a corpse or ashes?

Wiki tells me that a "pall" is literally the cloth that is draped over a coffin. When I think of "pallbearer," I think purely of the people carrying a coffin during a funeral (and it may be more ceremonial than anything).

I'm looking for a word to describe, say, the Bundren family in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, or Walter in The Big Lebowski when he is carrying Donny's ashes to be scattered. A word that could apply to someone outside of a traditional funeral setting; a word that would signify simply someone who carries another person's remains.

If "pallbearer" is the only word that fits, let me know!
posted by lewedswiver to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Makes me think of Ender being called Speaker for the Dead. If you're attempting to assign your own term, you could try "carrier of the dead" perhaps.

However, traditionally, it would be just underbearer:
(n.) One who supports or sustains; especially, at a funeral, one of those who bear the copse, as distinguished from a bearer, or pallbearer, who helps to hold up the pall.
Relate this to undertaker of course.

Alternatively, just go with bearer, carrier, or attendant (favorite so far).

I would not, however, go so far as to attempt to reappropriate something like the word steward, which is more related to the care of the land rather than one's personal being.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:02 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're perhaps attempting to describe this role in an essay setting, you could always try "courier", which is one who carries a message or package. So long as you can confidently say it with a straight face, I think a little twist of words here relates how the person carrying the ashes is delivering the body, though to what or to whom is of your determination.
posted by DisreputableDog at 1:07 AM on June 19, 2012

Just 'bearer' or perhaps 'urn-bearer'. If you want a fancy word, in English you can always run one up out of Greek or Latin - maybe 'cineritor' or 'necrophore'?
posted by Segundus at 1:27 AM on June 19, 2012

The order of service at a recent High Episcopalian service contained this: "The custodian of the ashes will place the receptacle upon the bier for the blessing and consecration."

The custodian in this case was the personal friend of the deceased to whom the ashes had been released by the mortuary. The bier in this case was a small square raised gilded table about sixteen inches square with a marble top, designed to hold a box of ashes or urn, so I guess in the most literal sense of the word it applied.

They did take great pains to explain in detail every step of the service (for benefit of non-Episcopalians) in the order of service, and it was in very plain language, without any effort at pretense.

I second "urn-bearer" personally.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:06 AM on June 19, 2012

I've read about and participated in several non-traditional funerals and memorials, and "bearer" and "custodian" tend to be the words used to describe the person(s) who hold, carry, transport, or are otherwise responsible for the cremated remains or representative memorial item.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:31 AM on June 19, 2012

Within the industry in New York City (where I spent a certain type of exile; long story) and by the funeral directors themselves they are simply called, "the men." Sometimes, "bearers." What they do is called, "carrying."

You have a list of people likely to show up sober, properly dressed and on time, and you work down the list to see who is available. Your number of required bearers will vary between 6 and 8 depending upon how heavy the casket (NEVER coffin) plus body are. The men "carry' for multiple funeral homes, generally centered around a particular geography.

The men are usually semi employed people - black cab and school bus drivers, musicians, sous chefs, retired cops, or a particular breed of freelance funeral director you call at 3:00 a.m. whom no funeral home employs full time but instead uses for removals and embalming. Anyone who carries must be able to walk, down and up stairs, in synchronized lockstep with the others. They do, very occasionally and spectacularly fuck up.

In New York, the going rate for a carry as of 2009 was about $75. If you were in demand and could time it right, you could do two a day on a good day, maybe total seven a week (weekends included).
posted by digitalprimate at 12:24 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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