Pall bearing and women

(34 Posts)
kim147 Fri 27-Sep-13 21:36:57

We had a family funeral today. My grandma passed away and the family were responsible for carrying the coffin into the church. My dad said that he wanted the male bloodline to carry the coffin.

It then occurred to me that it is unusual to see women carrying a coffin. There are female members of the family who are the right height and probably strong enough to have helped. But it does seem traditional that men do the carrying. There was a female undertaker who led the pall bearing and was in charge.

I know this is an upsetting area and probably the last thing people want to do is to make a feminist point at such a sensitive time. But I was wondering if anyone had thoughs and experiences about this.

tarajupp Fri 27-Sep-13 22:47:04

At my grandfather's funeral me, my mum, my sister, my uncle, my cousin (male), and a male family friend carried his coffin. We are such a small family that only choosing men was never going to be an option! No one ever mentioned a men only tradition, although lots of people were surprised to see family carrying the coffin.

EBearhug Fri 27-Sep-13 22:51:29

At my parents' funerals, the pall bearers were provided by the funeral directors'. I think it was the same at my great aunt's (most recent funeral I've been to.)

I think they were all men, but I actually have no idea. Few other things on my mind at the time.

DadWasHere Fri 27-Sep-13 23:00:38

Well, 'male bloodline' as a rationale is not something I would think of. Weight, strength, height, shoes, connection to deceased/myself... those would be the things.

scallopsrgreat Fri 27-Sep-13 23:02:32

I was a pall-bearer at my Gran's funeral. I think it is useful to have people of similar height and obviously women are generally smaller than men but you can even it out. I found it like carrying a rowing boat (something I am very used to doing). It does take some strength. I would also think that what women wear to funerals is also limiting. It is traditional for women to wear skirts, probably heels of some description. That could make it more precarious but it also something that can be overcome fairly easily.

But yes it is unusual. It is seen as "man thing". I think that this is possibly one of those benevolent sexism situations. It requires strength therefore a man will do it. But the whole "male bloodline" thing is a bit dodgy. How did you feel about that kim, if you don't mind me asking (feel free to ignore if you want)? I suppose it helped in my case it was my Mum organising the funeral and me and my brother were my Gran's only direct descendants apart from Mum (if descendants are important to pall-bearing confused).

TheSmallClanger Fri 27-Sep-13 23:15:11

At the funerals I've been to, the funeral director has provided the pallbearers, who were all apparently off-duty firefighters, at the last family funeral.

I've seen a few pictures of women accompanying coffins into ceremonies, with the coffins on trolleys, but not carrying them.

I'm not sure about the physical strength factor. Inexpensive coffins are not that heavy, and many elderly people are also not very heavy.

ghostonthecanvas Fri 27-Sep-13 23:24:31

I come from a very traditional Highland background. At my father's funeral I took a cord. We have a large family and it was men carrying the coffin. The men were close friends of my dad and picked by myself and my siblings. Even just having one female lowering the coffin in was a huge break with tradition. A close friend if mine expressed regret that she had not done the same for her father. I loved my dad and he taught me to do what feels right. Never let sexist nonsense dictate an important event. We also decided to bypass church and hold the funeral in our fathers favourite bar.....our mother is genuinely intrigued about what we will do for her..... traditions have to start somewhere!

scallopsrgreat Fri 27-Sep-13 23:29:41

Oh I think women are perfectly capable of carrying coffins. Didn't mean to give the impression otherwise. My Gran's coffin was quite heavy but nothing I couldn't handle (or any other woman). I just think traditionally men have taken over the role because men do the active role thing and women are relegated to a more inactive role because of their perceived inferior strength (and the whole passivity thing that comes with traditions and women in general).

Talking about active roles, maybe religion has something to do with it as well. Again, traditionally, all the active roles in church were taken by men. Most funerals were church based. Just musing.

meditrina Fri 27-Sep-13 23:36:13

You do need to have people of similar shoulder height to carry a coffin. So if all the others who want to carry are men around 6'2 and you're 5'4 then there's a bodily reason why it wouldn't work (indirectly a sex limitation, but not because of gender IYSWIM).

The best undertaker I have ever known was a woman (now retired).

mamakoukla Fri 27-Sep-13 23:41:43

In my family there is a tradition that at the graveside the women carry the coffin if it is a deceased female family member

AngelsLieToKeepControl Fri 27-Sep-13 23:43:35

I carried by son and daughters coffins. I am fairly sure that the undertaker suggested it both times.

I would assume that anyone that wants to do it would ask. I guess in the haze of grief people do tend to fall back on what's traditional and expected because it's easier than having to think when there is so much else going on.

scallopsrgreat Sat 28-Sep-13 00:11:43

Angels I'm so sorry sad.

I agree that thinking about this won't be on top of anyone's priority list when planning a funeral.

ModeratelyObvious Sat 28-Sep-13 00:58:25

Sorry for your losses Kim flowers and Angel flowers

kim147 Sat 28-Sep-13 09:36:08

"It is traditional for women to wear skirts, probably heels of some description."

Ooops. For anyone on here who "knows me", yesterday was the first time all my family had seen me. And I was asked to carry the coffin with those words from my Dad. It was an honour to carry the coffin but I do think he was preoccupied with other stuff to think about what he said.

That must have been so hard, Angel sad

perplexedpirate Sat 28-Sep-13 09:40:38

When my nan died, my brother wanted to carry her, so the others had to be picked to match his height, which ruled me out. My DH and our friends did it.
I did a reading though, because he was too choked. We all played to our strengths.
So sorry Angel. thanks

peggyblackett Sat 28-Sep-13 09:57:00

The pall bearers at my step granny's funeral were my step siblings. I would want to do the same for my grandmother, and will when the time comes.

peggyblackett Sat 28-Sep-13 09:57:50

And so sorry for your losses Kim and Angel.

nicename Sat 28-Sep-13 10:02:31

My niece is in the emergency services in the states. She is part of the league of honour, so carries caskets and fires rifles at colleagues funerals. Thankfully is doesn't happen very often.

She is a strapping 6-footer and is treated same as the blokes cos she is better than them and scary.

BrennieGirl Sat 28-Sep-13 10:06:20

When my Granny died a few months ago four of her daughters and two of her grand daughters carried her coffin in and out of the church. She had no sons although there are plenty of men in the family.

I think her daughters wanted to do one last thing together for her. However I wouldn't let my mam participate. She is 72 and has back and shoulder problems. My sister took her place instead and mam lead the procession.

I don't think it's something to be entered into lightly male or female. My poor sister was in floods of tears.

scallopsrgreat Sat 28-Sep-13 11:40:33

Oh Kim sad Sorry about that.

I wasn't advocating skirts and heels btw.

So sorry you've lost your grandmother Kim sad

I've never seen a female pallbearer, never thought of it until now. Though I do tend to avoid any and all religious ceremonies wherever possible and am usually concentrating on either being very sad or on controlling my panic at being in a church.

chibi Sat 28-Sep-13 11:52:52

i helped carry my grandfather in august. so did the other grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. three of us were women.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Sat 28-Sep-13 12:37:08

Hi kim, just wanted to say sorry for your loss, and for everyone on here who's lost someone.

Whatdoido5 Sat 28-Sep-13 12:40:21

I will carry my dad and mum. With dd on the other side, if she's old enough.

If my brother dared to turn up I'd hope he wouldn't have the balls to want to do a lift.

Queenie73 Sat 28-Sep-13 19:23:22

At my daughter's funeral, my husband carried the coffin, and I walked behind him. I probably couldn't have carried it because I'd only given birth to her three days before, but it hurt me that I wasn't given the chance to at least help. I feltl dismissed, somehow.

Bue Sat 28-Sep-13 19:26:36

Maybe this is only a Canadian thing but over there we tend not to carry coffins anymore, which eliminates the need for strength and similarly-sized people. You actually roll it in on a cloth-covered roller thingy. Certainly not as dramatic, but it makes it much easier for differently sized people to be involved. At my grandmother's funeral the female grandchildren escorted it in and the male grandchildren escorted it out. I loved that set up, it felt very special.

Bue Sat 28-Sep-13 19:28:57

Also I'm very sorry for all the losses expressed on this thread.

EduCated Sat 28-Sep-13 19:35:37

Wasn't it traditional in the (distant) past for women to not attend funerals at all? I may have imagined that.

WhentheRed Sat 28-Sep-13 20:03:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

SconeRhymesWithGone Sat 28-Sep-13 20:15:42

My experience is similar to Bue's. I am in the US and I can't remember the last time I saw a coffin carried into a funeral. It is always on a rolling bier that is escorted by pall bearers, many of whom are now women.

My condolences, Kim, and to everyone else who has lost someone.

Sirzy Sat 28-Sep-13 20:19:08

I carried my Grandmothers coffin and was going to my Grandfather coffin but I had flu so was only just able to be at the service let alone anything else.

I couldn't carry my Nans coffin as her 6ft tall son was one of the pall bearers so me being just over 5 ft would have made it very difficult.

SockQueen Wed 02-Oct-13 00:09:47

I carried my Grandma's, together with my Grandpa, Dad and his two brothers, and my eldest male cousin. I am the eldest grandchild by several years, and I actually asked to do it; they were going to have one of the other younger male cousins but I argued that he was a)only 13 and b)considerably shorter than me, so I was allowed. We didn't carry it on our shoulders, just by our sides using the handles, and it worked well. I think even if we had gone for shoulders it wouldn't have been too bad as I'm 5'9 and could add a couple more inches with some sturdy heels. I was really glad I did it, felt very right at the time.

When Grandpa died 5 years later, the male cousins were all grown-up enough that I couldn't use that argument again so they did it. I hope I don't have to worry about this for my parents or anyone else for some years yet but it's certainly something I'd do again.

DrCoconut Sun 06-Oct-13 19:43:14

EduCated, my grandma didn't attend my grandad's funeral in 1995. She was from a very traditional and old fashioned way of thinking that lasted until her generation basically. She fretted about what to wear after too, was a particular thing ok for a widow of 8 months or whatever, it mattered in her day when mourning attire was strictly observed. She was also shocked that the couple next door weren't married when they first moved in.

PenguinsDontEatPancakes Sun 06-Oct-13 21:23:48

Kim - You do 'know' me, but I namechanged because I got accidentally outed (maybe I should PM you my old name).

I am so sorry to hear about your Grandma. I hope that things with your family went ok and that you are ok with your father's comments.

Going on to your actual question, I think it is traditional for men to carry the coffin in the same way many things were traditionally the realm of men in the past. Women were probably expected to be too small, too emotional and unsuitably dressed.

Why hasn't it changed - I would guess a combination of the fact that there are physical issues in total equality and, at a more feminist level, because the rituals and traditions around death are comforting and familiar. And the last thing one wants to do at a funeral is make things worse by making a political point. So no one questions the tradition and it continues.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now