Lieneke and Camilla at Selwerd cemetary. Photo by Reyer Boxem

Lieneke & Camilla work at the cemetery

The first female pallbearers

Lieneke and Camilla at Selwerd cemetary. Photo by Reyer Boxem
Lieneke Marijt en Camilla Bodewes regularly don their black suits and gloves. The two students are part of the first group of female pallbearers. ‘Sometimes people will tell me how to lift.’
By Christien Boomsma and Rick-Jan Molanus
2 November om 16:24 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:16 uur.
November 2 at 16:24 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:16 PM.

Occasionally, people raise their eyebrows at them. The funeral service is still a man’s world, so when some pallbearers are women, they certainly stand out. Even more so when the women are university students. 

‘You look so adorable’, funeral directors will say. Or they’re told to hit the gym: ‘Those coffins are heavy!’ ‘Sometimes people will tell me how to lift’, says law student Lieneke Marijt. ‘I know I’m kind of short, but come on…’ 

Fortunately, most responses are positive. Lieneke says people are surprised, but happy to see them. Let’s be honest, female pallbearers are a rather new phenomenon. Being a pallbearer has become a popular job for students ever since former UG student Thijs de Vries and his brother decided to hire them for their company Axios, but up until recently, they only hired men. ‘People kept asking us why we didn’t have any women on our team’, says De Vries. ‘We didn’t really have an answer to that.’

Mixed teams

They started a pilot in early 2019, and when it turned out that women were just as capable of carrying a coffin during a funeral, De Vries decided he would from then on send mixed teams. ‘It’s kind of ridiculous that it took us this long.’

It’s kind of ridiculous that it took us this long to hire female pallbearers

Lieneke and her colleague, marketing student Camilla Bodewes, were part of the first batch of female bearers. ‘My boyfriend worked for Axios’, says Lieneke. ‘He told me they were planning to hire women.’ 

‘A former roommate tipped me off’, says Camilla. ‘It’s just what I was looking for, since there were only two months left before I was going on exchange.’

Camilla remembers how nervous she was the first time. She and her team were waiting behind closed doors while she had no idea what was waiting for her on the other side. ‘The other day I was on a shift with a friend of mine. It was his first shift. He looked exactly how I felt on my first day’, she says.

Dignified goodbye

Both girls regularly take on shifts. They started with twice a month, but these days they take on two or three jobs a week. They don’t have a contract and no fixed hours. ‘We tell them when we have time, and they schedule us accordingly. Right now, it’s the exam period, so we’re working less’, says Lieneke. ‘The job never takes up a whole day. It’s usually three or four hours and then you’re free to do something else.’

When there are only a few people at a funeral, we can help make it nice

It’s an ideal situation, they say, although the flexibility and freedom aren’t the only things that make the job attractive. More important is the fact that they can contribute to a ‘dignified and beautiful last goodbye’, says Lieneke. ‘Sometimes there are only a few people at the funeral and we can help make it nice. A team of pallbearers make a beautiful sight. I can’t quite explain it, but being a part of that feels amazing.’

‘It’s about doing something for people in their worst moments’, says Camilla. ‘I never quite understood what people meant when they said their work was rewarding, but now I do.’

Then there’s the fact that they work with a group of young people. That, too, adds something special to the mix, Lieneke says. ‘Most people attending a funeral are old, but we’re all young people. There is something beautiful in that contrast, kind of like life and death, or something.’


The fact that they’re women also adds something extra. ‘Some people strongly prefer a completely female team’, says Camilla. ‘There was one client who had no husband or children. She was this strong, independent woman. Before she died, she said she wanted women to carry her to her grave.’

‘People say that having women on the team of pallbearers makes everything just that little bit gentler’, Lieneke adds. ‘At the end of a service we always form an honour guard. People will compliment us or smile quietly at us. It’s really nice.’

‘It’s good to know that you helped everything go smoothly that day’, adds Camilla. ‘It makes things less sad.’

Too heavy

They also know the responsibility they bear. After all, things can’t go wrong at a funeral. 

I very nearly lost my balance

Camilla remembers how, during one of her first shifts, the team of pallbearers was too small. The client had requested six men, but in the end, there were only two men and two women. ‘We had to carry a heavy coffin to a wide grave’, she says. ‘The mourners were standing too close and we had very little room to make a rather uncomfortable turn.’ The coffin became much too heavy on her side. ‘I very nearly lost my balance’, she says. ‘Not my proudest moment, but these things happen.’

Lieneke also recalls the moment a coffin got too heavy. ‘Usually, the coffin is wheeled out of the chapel on a bier, after which we carry it to the cemetery’, she explains. ‘We lift the coffin ever so slightly so the funeral director can quickly remove the bier. One time, the funeral director removed the bier really slowly, and we were lifting the coffin with our arms stretched…’


Camilla has worked at least a hundred ceremonies by now. She’s learned that funerals are perfectly normal. ‘I mean, if someone close to me were to die I’d be just as sad as anyone else’, she says. ‘But I’ve attended so many services. I’ve realised it happens to everyone. Death is natural.’

Lieneke feels the same way. ‘I no longer associate funerals with the negativity of losing a loved one. I’ve become familiar with the other aspects of it.’