Cremation is projected to top burial as the final disposition of choice in New Jersey at some point over the next few years.

The cremation rate topped 50 percent nationwide for the first time in 2015. New Jersey, which posted a cremation rate of 44.2 percent that year, may not hit the 50-percent mark until 2021, according to a report from the Cremation Association of North America.

More recent figures released by the National Funeral Directors Association put New Jersey's projected cremation rate in 2018 at 46.7 percent. A number of states, especially those on the West Coast, already feature a rate of two-thirds or greater.

Kevin O'Brien, manager of O'Brien Funeral Home in Wall and Brick, said the Garden State is not as cremation-heavy as others due to a large population that still follow traditional beliefs.

"With tradition comes more of a full funeral," O'Brien said. "Families have family burial plots in cemeteries, and generation after generation goes to the same cemetery."

The rate of loved ones choosing ashes over burial, however, has spiked significantly in the past several years — from 35 percent in 2010.

"At our funeral home 25 years ago, I'd say our cremation rate was less than 10 percent," O'Brien said.

The shift can be attributed to a number of reasons — perhaps the most influential being cost savings. Cremation, more often than not, is less expensive than a burial. Families opting for cremation can still choose to pay for a viewing and funeral service, but not needing a casket can shave thousands off the final bill.

O'Brien said cremation also relieves pressure and time constraints on those grieving the loss of a loved one. While a funeral for a burial is typically organized within 4-5 days, services for an individual who's cremated can occur a week, month or year from time of death.

"And with each generation, families are more spread out," O'Brien added. "It is not as typical for people to be born and raised in the same town that their parents were born and raised in."

The Vatican in 2016 proclaimed that Catholics may be cremated, but the ashes may not be scattered at sea or kept in an urn at home. Instead, ashes should be kept in a sacred place, such as a Catholic cemetery, the Vatican said.

The cremation rate in the U.S. is projected to grow to 78.8 percent by 2035, according to the funeral director's association. New Jersey is projected to hit 63 percent in 2030.

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