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Loved ones face array of decisions // ONE FAMILY'S STORY

Just seven hours ago, Raul Rivera was holding his father's hand, checking his vital signs, preparing to say his last goodbye.

Now he has to plan a funeral. His grief is split between the loss of a loving father, who at age 74 was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the pain of seeing his mother lose her husband of 52 years.

In their bleakest times, family members are the ones who are left to make the quick and painful decisions about a funeral. A growing number of funerals are prepaid, but few are completely preplanned.

Rivera said his job was made easier because of his meticulously organized father, also named Raul Rivera. He left behind a briefcase containing his birth certificate, insurance forms, marriage certificate, military discharge papers and several other important documents.

"I couldn't have done this without him," his son said of his father's planning. "He was always thinking of us."

The case also contained a form his father had filled out with Prevatt Funeral Home a year earlier. It included the basic information such as his name, family members and military service. But details remained.

So 49-year-old Rivera, flanked by two cousins for emotional support, met with funeral director Clarence Prevatt to take on the rest of the task.

The first question was easy: the exact spelling of his father's name. Rivera's eyes glistened with tears, but he tried to break the painful tension with a moment of humor. "All his life, people would see Dad's name and think it was Paul Revere instead of Raul Rivera," he said. Everyone in the room laughed.

But the tears came much easier than the laughs during the next hour and a half as a string of decisions and arrangements was made.

The timing

One of the first things Prevatt asked Rivera was when he wanted to have the service. Friends and family were flying in from New York and Spain, so they needed time to arrive. But he wanted it no later than Thursday.

"I don't want to prolong this for Mom," he said. "Dad wanted it short and sweet so it would not prolong the agony."

He'd like to have the viewing at the funeral home on Wednesday evening, after everyone has gotten into town, and then have the funeral Thursday morning.

The problem was, however, his father wasn't the only person to die that day. Prevatt already had a viewing and funeral planned for those same times. He suggested a viewing Thursday afternoon and funeral Friday.

But it was only Monday. Rivera didn't want his mother to dread the funeral for five more days.

Prevatt offered a solution. Since his funeral home has a large and small chapel, they could hold both viewings on Wednesday evening if Rivera took the smaller room. He agreed. And they could have the funeral Thursday afternoon, after Prevatt finished his other funeral in the morning.

The burial

The elder Raul Rivera was an Army radio operator during World War II. "He wanted to be buried as a veteran," Rivera said. "That was always his desire."

Prevatt explained veterans can be buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell at no charge. (The combined cost of a plot, vault, market and opening and closing fees at other area cemeteries starts at around $2,500.)

At Florida National, veterans are also entitled to a tombstone marker with the soldier's name on one side and the spouse's on the other.

Prevatt told Rivera that the Spring Hill Veterans of Foreign Wars could go to the Bushnell cemetery to perform a 21-gun salute and present the American flag to his mother. There is no set charge for the volunteer service, but most people donate $50 to $75 to the VFW. "Oh, we definitely want to do that," Rivera said. "Dad would love that."

The casket

Rivera braced himself before entering the small, warm room where Prevatt displays sample caskets. Like most funeral homes, Prevatt displays only a small number of caskets, 12, but has access to hundreds that can be ordered from catalogs.

The most expensive are the solid bronze, copper and stainless steel caskets. Prevatt's bronze sample goes for $6,500, the copper for $4,195 and the stainless steel for $3,745.

The other caskets come in 16-, 18-, 19- and 20- gauge steel. The lower the gauge, the thicker and heavier the steel. Prevatt displays 18- and 20-gauge caskets, which cost between $995 and $2,700.

While he does sell wooden caskets, Prevatt doesn't display any. They are not as popular in Florida, though they are the least expensive option.

Some caskets have interior lining with embroidered flowers or other designs. One features a sea gull in flight and the words "Going Home." Others have inscriptions and designs around the outside.

Rivera decided on a chocolate-brown casket with a scene depicting The Last Supper carved on both sides. The 18-gauge steel model cost $2,840.

"That was the hardest part," he said, walking out of the room. Again he tried to smile. "Mine _ when my time comes _ I want something bright red."

The cost of the funeral

+ Basic service charge $575

Covers planning conference, funeral arrangement,

preparation and filing of necessary documents,

preparation of obituary, maintenance on funeral home,

utility expenses, secretary and administrative costs

+ Embalming $250

Includes cosmetology.+

+ Casket $2,840

+ Visitation at funeral home $200

+ Use of staff for funeral service at funeral home $200

+ Removal of body from place of death $95

+ Transport of body to Florida National

Cemetery in Bushnell $150

+ Two limousines for 12 adults to cemetery $280

($140 each)

+ Five copies of death certificate at $5 each $25

+ Memorial package $50

Includes register book, 60 thank-you notes, printed

memorial folders with name, birth and death dates.

+ Total Prevatt Funeral Home charges $4,665

Other expenses:

+ Flowers $150

+ Clergy honorarium $150

+ Gratuity to Spring Hill VFW color guard $50

+ Total bill $5,015++

+ Not all funeral homes include cosmetology in the embalming cost.

++ Cemetery plot, valut, marker and opening and closing of valut at Florida National Cemetery are provide dat no charge to veterans. These costs, combined, start at about $2,500 at other area cemeteries.