The Charleston County Coroner's Office reports rising applications from funeral homes for cremation permits as more families opt for an urn of ashes over a traditional burial.
South Carolina percentage of deaths cremated
2017 forecast: 41%
Top states by percentage of deaths cremated
States with lowest percentage of deaths cremated
West Virginia: 26%
U.S. percentage of deaths cremated
Source: Cremation Association of North America 2012 annual report
Some said that the change here and statewide is happening because the alternative to a typical funeral has become more acceptable. Others think cremation fits better in a mobile society where people are less likely to have a spot reserved in the church graveyard.
"The trend is catching up with us here. Things don't change as rapidly down South," said Overton Ganong, spokesman for the Funeral Consumers Alliance of South Carolina.
In the Palmetto State, 33 percent of deaths led to cremation in 2012, according to the Cremation Association of North America, which projects that cremation will be the choice in 41 percent of South Carolina deaths by 2017.
"Cremation is far and away the least expensive option," Ganong said.
The average cost of a funeral is $10,000, not including cemetery fees, he said.
Cremation at McAlister-Smith Funeral Homes is about half the cost of a traditional funeral, said Pam Amos, operations manager.
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten recently applied for a $27,000 state grant to pay for a new part-time staffer to help process cremation requests from funeral homes.
"It's taking more and more time from the day-to-day business," Wooten said.
In the first three months of this year, Charleston County permitted 527 cremations, which is an increase of 16 percent over the same period last year, she said.
Last year, the county had 1,818 cremation requests. It recorded 3,588 deaths, she said.
Dorchester County Coroner Chris Nisbet issued 324 cremation permits last year. The county recorded 639 deaths in 2013.
Nisbet said that he has heard a variety of reasons for the choice of cremation.
"I want to be sprinkled in the ocean so anytime, anywhere my loved ones can feel as if they are with me," he said.
Some have told him that cremation is better for the Earth. Others worried about being dug up if a cemetery goes out of business, he said.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, some think," he said.
Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said that last year he issued 256 cremation permits. The county had 828 deaths in 2013.
"I think a lot of it is the economics. A lot of them will say right off the bat, 'He wants to be cremated,'" he said.
Mark Smith, owner and funeral director at McAlister-Smith, said that some 60 percent of his customers choose cremation. In 1990, the number was just below 20 percent, he said.
Cremation is more popular among affluent residents of coastal communities. "Religious preference doesn't drive cremation rates," he said.
Cremation packages can include visitation in a rented ceremonial casket and a memorial service. A few families opt for no service, he said.
The Palmetto Cremation Society in Charleston offers a "simple cremation package" for $795 that includes transportation of the deceased, cremation container, cremation permit, cremation and a death certificate. The society's website says it is the first crematory in the county.
Post-cremation remains, known as "cremains," may be buried, scattered at sea or kept in an urn. Ashes can be incorporated into keepsake jewelry. A hunter might elect to have his ashes loaded into shells and fired from a shotgun.
"Almost as many ways as wishes," Amos said.
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