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How to Choose Funeral Participants

Planning a funeral often means selecting different participants for that funeral. Participants may be asked to read a eulogy, act as a pallbearer and carry the casket, or even sing or perform a reading at the funeral. Choosing these participants can feel stressful, especially if you either aren't sure who to choose or have many choices to choose from. Here's what you need to know when it comes to choosing the right participants.

Funeral participants overview

Before you get started with selecting funeral participants, it helps to know what exactly you're choosing participants to do. Many funerals will have someone who reads the eulogy and pallbearers (if there is a casket). However, there are other roles that can be filled as well. Here's a breakdown of some of the more common funeral participants:

  • Eulogist: The person who delivers the funeral eulogy or speech in honor of the deceased. This person is usually chosen by the family because they knew the deceased best or was of high importance to the person who passed away. They may also choose this person to be a close friend or family member, someone who was significant in their life and can speak about those memories fondly. You can have a signal eulogist or multiple.
  • Readers: Different people can be asked to read poems, passages, or scripture during the funeral service.
  • Pallbearers: The pallbearers (or casket bearers) are designated individuals responsible for carrying the casket. They typically consist of family members, close friends, and other individuals who were close to the deceased. Some funeral homes may select pallbearers themselves if there aren't enough close people available to do it.
  • Officiant: This is the person who leads the funeral service and officiates it. They may be a member of the clergy or just someone who was close to the deceased and was asked to do it.
  • Ushers and greeters: These are folks who greet incoming attendees and hand out information, inform them of scheduling, and help them answer any questions they may have.

Choosing a eulogist

Before you start thinking of people you think may be good candidates as eulogists, it helps to know what exactly you're asking someone to do.

What is a eulogy?

A eulogy by definition is a speech or piece of writing that praises someone (or something) highly and is typically read or delivered after they've passed away. A eulogy typically includes stories from the decedent's life, lessons the eulogist learned from them, important or fond memories they had, and other life achievements.

Given the importance of this speech, choosing a eulogist can feel like a daunting task. A good choice for a eulogist typically has the following traits:

  • They knew the deceased well and had many stories to share about them.
  • They are a good writer and can eloquently deliver their thoughts both on paper and verbally.
  • They're able to speak publicly without feeling too uncomfortable.
  • They're able to stay composed while speaking, even if they become emotional.
  • They have the time to prepare a speech and can commit to delivering the eulogy when it comes time.

Even if your choice doesn't have all these traits, they can still deliver an excellent eulogy. The most important part is picking someone you know loved the decedent and would do a great job at remembering the decedent's life in the presence of others.

Keep in mind that whoever you choose to read at the ceremony will be able to easily share their eulogy or piece that they read on the memorial website. If you have someone in mind already, simply tag them in the Events & RSVPs section of the website as a 'Reader' and they'll be able to post what they said directly on the memorial website.

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Choosing other readers

You may also find that the decedent requested no eulogy be read, you simply do not want a eulogy to be read at the funeral, or you’d like to include other readers in the service. In this case, you can ask different friends and family members to read a small passage or piece at the funeral. In addition, you can set aside a time for an open mic and ask that attendees feel free to share their brief stories or memories during the open mic.

If you decide to host an open mic, it's worth setting boundaries at the start so that the mic isn't held by one person for too long and expectations are set at the beginning. You can let attendees know that there's a brief period of time for them to come up and share a short story (you can even add time limits, for example, asking that they keep their story or reading under 1-2 minutes).

Choosing pallbearers

Pallbearers by definition are participants who help to carry the casket during a funeral. There can also be honorary pallbearers, meaning that they would be given the physical responsibility of carrying a casket if they had the physical ability to do so, but aren't due to their inability to carry the casket. When considering pallbearers, you want to consider both their relationship and their physical (and emotional) capacity to carry out the pallbearer duties. Some questions to ask yourself before designating pallbearers include:

  • How well did the person know the deceased?
  • What kind of relationship did they have with the decedent?
  • Do they have any physical limitations that would prevent them from being able to carry the casket?
  • Are they emotionally capable of carrying out this role during a funeral service?
  • Would they feel pressured or uncomfortable in accepting their role as a pallbearer?

Remember, you can always designate folks as honorary pallbearers if they aren't able to physically carry the casket but would've been given the role. Honorary pallbearers customarily walk behind the casket as it’s being carried.

Caskets typically weigh around 200 lbs (and can weigh up to 400 lbs), a number that doesn't take into account the weight of the decedent. Given this, it should be mentioned that carrying a casket is not an easy job and any chosen pallbearer will need to be able to physically handle this task.

You'll generally want to select 6-8 pallbearers for the funeral service (in addition to any honorary pallbearers, if you choose to have honorary pallbearers). Anyone who is physically capable of carrying the casket can be a pallbearer. For more information on choosing a pallbearer, read this article on How to Choose Pallbearers for a https://everloved.com/articles/funeral-planning/how-choose-pallbearers-funeral/Funeral.

Choosing an officiant or leader

When it comes to choosing an officiant or religious leader to lead the funeral service, it's important to consider the person's relationship with both you and the deceased.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:

    • How well did this person know the deceased?
    • What kind of relationship did they have with them?
    • Did this person play any role in the decedent's life (i.e., as a friend, family member, clergy)?
    • Is this person comfortable leading and speaking in public?
    • Does this person have experience with funeral sermons? If not, are they comfortable with this role?

The person leading the service doesn't have to be a religious figure or leader, but if the decedent was religious and had a leader they looked to, it's worth starting there. If they were religious but didn't attend a specific church, you can contact local churches and see if they have clergy members or religious leaders able to lead the service.

If the decedent wasn't religious, asking a close friend or family member to lead the service is not out of the ordinary. You can also look into funeral celebrants in your area who can help you lead the service. Funeral celebrants are professionals who organize funeral ceremonies and work closely with the family to create a service that fits their needs. Your chosen funeral director will also be able to lead the service if that's your preference.

When you're ready to start getting information together and keep everyone up to date regarding funeral events, it's time to set up a memorial website. Memorial websites are easy to set up and easy to use -- making it simple for friends, family, and your community to stay informed and in the loop regarding all upcoming events. In addition, visitors can leave condolences, memories and photos, donate to a cause, and be in community with others.

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Last updated February 25, 2022
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