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Funeral Etiquette Part III


The Pall-Bearers

If a guard of honor is to be appointed, the person in charge should consult the wishes of the immediate family. Those who are asked to serve receive an invitation by note or by messenger, sent either by the head of the family of the deceased or by the person in charge. Relatives are seldom appointed as pall-bearers. A request to serve as pall-bearer should be refused only for the most imperative reasons.

The number and age of the pall-bearers is a matter of taste and not of obligation. But it is considered good form to have six young girls, dressed in white, as the guard of honor for a young girl or woman. They should be selected from among intimate friends. Similarly, six young men are appropriate for a young man who has died; while for an elderly married man, eight gentlemen from among his closest friends and business associates form the usual guard of honor.

The pall-bearers, in the invitation, are told just when they are expected to assemble at the house of the deceased, and they should make it a particular point to be on time. There can be no greater breach of good manners, and in fact no greater unkindness, than to keep a funeral party waiting. If the pall-bearers are to be women, the carriages or cars may be sent for them individually; but as a general rule, pall-bearers are shown to their carriage or car before the door, when the funeral procession begins.

It is customary for all who attend a church funeral to assemble at the church, but this rule does not pertain to the pall-bearers. They are the only ones who accompany the immediate family and relatives from the house. Unless a special request to the contrary has been made, pall-bearers may send flowers if they wish.

Duties of Pall-Bearers

A prompt answer is necessary upon receipt of an invitation to serve as pall-bearer. Illness or absence from town at the time of the funeral are the only excuses for refusing to accept the invitation. The written answer must be followed by a personal call at the home of the deceased, and cards must be left.

Formerly, the duty of the pall-bearer was to carry the cloth or velvet pall that covered the coffin hence the name. Later the custom developed into a more important duty, the pall-bearers actually carried the casket into and out of the church. This is still done, although now the accepted form is for the pall-bearers to appear solely as a guard of honor for the dead.

In this latter case, they walk before the casket which is carried by the undertaker's or sexton's assistants. They halt before the hearse and stand in silent reverence with heads uncovered, while the casket is being placed into it, and again when it is taken out to be conveyed into the church. They do not enter their cars until the hearse has passed on ahead.

Each pall-bearer should speak a few words of condolence to the members of the bereaved family. However, he must not make obvious efforts to observe this duty, nor must he intrude upon grief. He offers his words of comfort only when it is convenient and when he is brought, by his duties, into the presence of his sorrowing friends. He should be kind, and most of all, tactful. He should no say anything that will cause a fresh outburst of grief.

A few days after the funeral, it is expected that the pall-bearer call and leave his card for the mourners. it is necessary only for him to inquire at the door after the ladies and to leave his card. it is more considerate not to ask to see members of the family.

The Church Funeral

Because it is closely allied with religion, the funeral ceremony is nearly always conducted at church. Of course this is something entirely dependent upon conditions and personal preferences, but the church funeral is always more dignified and impressive.

The pall-bearers and nearest relatives of the deceased assemble at the house. Otherwise, all who are to attend the funeral assemble at the church. The casket is borne from the house by the undertaker's assistants, the pallbearers preceding it two-by-two. As soon as the hearse drives off, the pall-bearers enter the carriages or cars immediately behind it, and the relatives follow in the next cars in the order of their relationship.

When the procession is ready to move, the music begins and the casket is borne down the aisle to the altar by the sexton's assistants. Sometimes the pall-bearers carry the casket to the altar.

Order of Precedence

When attending the body of their child, parents walk arm in arm, their other children following immediately behind them in the order of seniority. Pall-bearers invariably precede the casket. A widow attends the body of her husband on the arm of her eldest son or daughter, with her other children just behind. After them come the deceased man's parents, followed by his brothers and sisters. Similarly, a widower follows the body of his wife attended by his eldest son or daughter. Children following the body of their only parent take precedence according to their ages, the elder always leading. A widow who has no children follows her husband on the arm of a brother or other near masculine relative.

During the services at the church, the relatives occupy the front pews on the right of the center aisle. The pall-bearers sit in the opposite pews on the left-hand side. After the services the procession leaves the church in the same order observed upon entering. If prayers are to be offered at the grave, the car of the clergyman follows immediately after the hearse. Different religions have different burial services, but these are matters of faith rather than of etiquette.

The House Funeral

A house funeral should always be very simple. Few flowers are used by people of good taste.

At a house funeral, a number of folding-chairs may be provided by the undertaker. The casket is placed on a draped stand at one end of the drawing-room, such flowers as are used being placed on and around it. The room may or may not be darkened according to the wishes of the family. Each guest should be greeted at the door by some representative of the family and shown to a seat in the drawing-room. A row of seats should be reserved near the casket for the immediate family, one being set aside for the clergyman who is to officiate. Though it is not obligatory it is very courteous to send a carriage or an automobile for him. A Protestant clergyman does not expect a fee but if he has come some distance or if the family wishes to express their thanks in that manner they may offer one which he is privileged to accept with perfect propriety.

It is not necessary to appoint pall-bearers for a home funeral. A quiet reserve and dignity should characterize the occasion, and it should be carried out with the greatest amount of expediency possible. If music is desired, the musicians or choristers should be in an adjacent room and the notes should be very low and soft.

Women do not remove their wraps during the ceremony, and men carry their hats in their hands. The women members of the bereaved family enter on the arms of masculine relatives, and if they intend going to the cemetery, they wear their hats and veils. The members of the family, however, do not enter the drawing-room until the clergy-man arrives.

After the ceremony the guests quietly disperse, only those remaining who intend going to the cemetery. It is not expected that expressions of sympathy be offered on this occasion; cards are left for the family immediately after the announcement of the death, and a call of condolence is made, according to society's rules, within a week after the funeral. Thus it is superfluous to offer sympathy at the services, unless one is a very dear friend and wishes particularly to do so.

(To be continued: Part IV)


Website: The History
Article Name: Funeral Etiquette Part III
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


 BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of books " Book of Etiquette" by Lillian Eichler Volume I, Nelson Doubleday, Inc. 1921
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