During a funeral or memorial service the pallbearers are the primary focus of many eyes. Traditionally, those chosen had a close relationship with the deceased, such as a close family member or friend of the family. The men and women carry the casket out of the church and into the waiting vehicle, as well as to the grave site. Pallbearers typically carry the casket on their shoulders.
According to The World of Society, pallbearers originally covered the casket or coffin with a large piece of cloth. The cloth sat on top of the coffin throughout the service and until the deceased was interred in the ground. The word "pallbearer" came from the original duties performed by the individuals. Today the pallbearers are responsible for carrying the casket to and from both the church and the vehicle transporting the individual.
Not all pallbearers carry the casket. In some cases, assistants working for the undertaker handle the responsibility of actually moving the deceased. The pallbearers walk in front of the casket to and from the church. The pallbearers may also take a moment of silence in front of the vehicle, which gives them time to consider their thoughts and feelings about the person who passed away.
Carrying the Casket
Pallbearers traditionally carry the casket on their shoulders. The group stoops slightly, with their backs straight and knees slightly bent. One person stands on either end of the casket with the pallbearers stationed on the sides. Everyone lifts the casket at the same time, making it rise slightly off the ground. The pallbearers lift the sides of the casket and place it on one shoulder. Some of the newer caskets feature handles on the side, which make lifting and transporting the casket easier. In some cases, the pallbearers must pull the casket out of the hearse or limousine transporting the coffin. Those on the end of the casket lift it up, as they pull it out of the casket, making enough room underneath for the other pallbearers.
Sizing and Spacing
The undertaker chooses the proper number of pallbearers based on the weight of the coffin and the size of the deceased person. Two pallbearers may be enough for a small child, while a fully-grown adult requires at least six pallbearers. Each pallbearer stands at a specific spot, which evenly distributes the weight of the coffin and keeps one pallbearer from carrying the brunt of the weight.