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Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Don Shell, but you might as well just call me Average Joe. I’m a 34-year-old married white guy, with graying hair and a (ahem) growing waistline. I was born into a middle-class family, and I lead a pretty middle-class life today. I’ve got two car payments, a house with a pool, and a steep mortgage. I love to golf, and watch American Idol on TV (the wife makes me). And I’ve got aging family members.

What I don’t have, however, is an appreciation for “traditional” funeral service. Never have. When my dad died when I was 15, I left thinking the whole funeral thing was kind of empty. Today, I can’t tell you the funeral director’s name (and barely remember the funeral home), and I sure as hell can’t tell you what kind of casket he was buried in.

But you know what? I don’t care that I can’t remember that stuff. Why would I want to? What’s a casket got to do with anything, really? It certainly had nothing to do with my dad.

Blasphemy, I know. “What does he mean, the casket doesn’t matter?” you might be asking yourself. “Why should we care what you think?” you might even say. I’ll tell you why:

Because I’m your customer.

Not me, specifically, but thousands of Average Joes just like me, all across the country. Joes who don’t live in the town they grew up in, don’t attend church regularly and are leaning toward cremation when they head to the hereafter. Joes who find velvet drapes and walls more than just a little tacky. (Gasp!) Oh yes, it’s true.

In case you’re wondering, it’s Joes like me who are the reason you’re seeing the words “no services are scheduled” and “direct cremation” creep into your bottom lines. So what can you do to win me over? To keep me interested, and engage me as a customer? For starters, you can stop trying to sell me stuff that has no meaning when it’s all over. I’m sorry you’ve got a half-million bucks in rolling stock in your garage, but I’m really not impressed. And that’s quite a casket showroom you’ve got there, but seriously, do I really need two dozen choices? Or even a dozen?

What I need is someone to listen to me, advise me, and most of all, help me celebrate my family member’s life. A few years from now, all I’ll know about that casket is that my dad’s buried in it, and maybe how much I paid for it.

What I need is someone to help me plan the perfect, fitting memorial, and something more than one of those “themed” services, too. You gotta admit, those are kind of cheesy, and even worse, shallow. I want to memorialize the person, not the pastime.

I want to remember them, the life they led, and the person they were. I want to share their story with their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren. I want help remembering it, myself. What I don’t want, or need, is fancy cars and caskets.

Now, you don’t have to listen to me, of course. Maybe I’m not the Average Joe. Maybe I’m not your target demographic (at least yet). And maybe I’m crazy. But the next time you go shopping for a new coach, ask yourself “Honestly, will this really make a difference to people?”Because to me, at least, the answer is resoundingly, defiantly, no.

Now, about those drapes …

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Don Shell is a staff writer for Life Story Network®, a Portage, Mich.-based multimedia company serving 15 privately-owned Life Story Funeral Homes® in Michigan. Contact him at donshell@lifestorynet.com. For more information about Life Story Network® and Life Story Funeral Homes®, visit http://www.lifestorynet.com/.

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