In loving memory of my mom on the 20th anniversary of her death, this week’s blog is the introduction of my book, The Power of Promise: How to Win and Keep Customers by Telling the Truth About your Brand, available on Amazon. Thanks, mom. You are always in my heart.
As I opened the kitchen door from the garage, the smell of Khouresh—an Assyrian beef stew—filled the air. I rounded the corner and there was my mom, standing over pots and pans on the stove, tending to the rice pilaf in the oven. My mouth started watering. I walked over, gave my mom a kiss, and turned to face the four men standing behind me.
“Mom, meet the Army paratrooper team. Team, meet my mom.”
My dad, sister, and I had just returned from Castle Air Force Base where there was a twice-yearly air show. My sister thought these soldiers deserved a home-cooked meal, which of course they did.
This would have freaked most moms out. Given our ethnic background though (Armenian and Assyrian, and as I recently discovered through Ancestry.com, Italian and Greek), there was always plenty of food. “Portions”did not exist in our home. Pots, kettles, roasters—those were the ways we measured quantities of food. For my mom, four extra mouths for dinner was a walk in the park.
The guys all greeted my mom, and without missing a beat, she said, “Now I’m feeding them from the sky. Boys, the bathroom is straight ahead. Wash up and have a glass of wine. Dinner is in an hour.”
Laughter and conversation flowed as everyone relaxed into being part of our family for the night. As we sat down for dinner, my mom stood up, raised a glass, looked around the table at these former strangers who were now guests in our home, and said, “You are all welcome here.”
That experience was over thirty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Something clicked for me in that moment. Hospitality. Treating the stranger like a friend. Welcoming those previously unknown into your home. Unconditional acceptance. Sharing food and drink. Loving people you have never met. These were the hallmark attributes of my mom’s life, the qualities that people could count on when spending time with her.
Looking back, I remember that every detail was attended to and that those soldiers were shown the same kindness that we would have shown to family members. Not just because they were soldiers, but because they were guests in our home.
Extraordinary hospitality was mom’s personal brand. Her promise. And she delivered the promise of her brand every time. Anyone that walked through our doors, or in this case, dropped in from the skies, was welcome. There would be wine and food and always more than enough. There was a reason we had three refrigerators and a full-size deep freeze: never would anyone be told “we’re out of food.”
“You are all welcome here.”
Ten years later, after her second bout with cancer, we lost my mom to that horrific disease. We had the intense experience of having her home on hospice care during her last few weeks. My sister and I did everything we could to provide my mom with the same hospitality she had shown countless others throughout her life. Escorting my mom on her final journey on earth was the best and worst experience of my life.
We set her bed up in the family room in front of the fireplace. My spouse brought in her favorite flowers—lilies—and attended to them daily. My mom wanted to receive guests and didn’t have a bed jacket (a short upper garment worn over a nightgown). Again, my husband came to the rescue with a few well-placed calls to Bloomingdale’s, and my mom had what she wanted to properly greet those coming to say goodbye.
Wednesday afternoon, as I was playing her favorite hymns on the piano in the living room, my sister came in and said that mom had asked if it was OK to close her eyes and not open them again.
“What should I tell her?” Susan asked me.
I replied, “Tell mom, yes. It is OK.”
About forty-five minutes later, my sister came back into the liv- ing room, laughing. I thought my mom was gone and that Susan was having a slightly hysterical reaction.
It turns out that my mom had just opened her eyes, looked around, and said, “Am I still here?” We all had a good laugh, shared a popsicle or two, and prepared ourselves for what we knew was the inevitable.
Caring for someone who is dying is a detailed business, and my sister and I made a great team naturally taking on different, complementary responsibilities both during mom’s hospitalization and during her home hospice care. There was an intricate list to carry out: tracking doses of morphine, making sure her pain was being managed, keeping her nourished and hydrated, communicating with her, listening to her, and then having the most difficult conversations ever—the ones about the funeral, which signaled that we all officially accepted this was coming to an end. There was also the making of promises—no open casket (except for one hour, unannounced, and only open to family), the dress that she would be buried in, and her favorite hymns to be sung. Details matter.
The evening that my mom died she waited (and I use the term deliberately) until we were just out of the family room and in the kitchen. She had always cautioned us to not hover and stare, and I think she wanted to slip away as unobtrusively as possible, which she did.
In the ensuing hours, my Type AAA personality kicked into high gear. I made a master task list, created a three-ring binder with tabs, and assigned responsibilities. We started making calls.
The mortuary attendants arrived, and we said the most surreal goodbye as our mom’s body was zipped into a black bag. We kept moving because there was a new focus. We had two services to plan and prepare for—Evensong (sung evening prayer) at the funeral home and the funeral at the church the next day.
Musicians had to be booked and flown in. Music needed to be procured and copied. The last photo of her from a few weeks before at Christmas needed to be enlarged and framed so it could stand by her casket. And I was determined to keep my word to my mom with every detail.
The hymns she loved would be sung, and she would be buried in the clothes she requested. We would have a full Assyrian dinner afterwards, and it would feature the same foods that we had the night the paratrooper team floated in. Because in our culture, whether you’re celebrating or mourning, the table reigns supreme.
We went casket shopping and settled on something we thought was perfect. We confirmed the plot at the cemetery, the time of the arrival, and I made sure I had contact names and numbers in case of emergencies.
I met with the pastor to review the order of the service. My husband and his sister created a casket cover by hand that featured about 1,000 lemon leaves glued in a circular pattern, and attached 33 gardenias to it (another one of my mom’s favorite flowers) re- calling the 33 years that Jesus lived on earth. Given the depth of her faith, I knew how much this detail would mean to her.
On the day of the first service at the funeral home, we stopped by in the afternoon as the flowers were being delivered. My husband, staring in horror at the way some of the arrangements were put together, turned to the funeral director and said, “I need a bucket with water, a roll of paper towels, sharp scissors, and a garbage can.”
Over the next couple of hours, he literally created an entire new set of floral arrangements, transforming the raw materials into things of beauty. We took a short break to change, and then it was time for the first service.
There is something otherworldly about saying goodbye to your mom, particularly at a younger age. You keep thinking that she’ll appear at dinner or that she’ll pick up the phone if you call her. Because that’s the way it’s always been, and to have it end, forever, is incomprehensible.
I walked away from it knowing that the planning, the details, the caring, the compassion, the desire to create an extraordinary and unforgettable experience for everyone who knew and loved my mom was worth the three sleepless days and nights for my sister and me. It was worth it a hundred times over.
I knew it in my heart. I knew it when the director of the funeral home said that she had never seen a service carried out with such grace and dignity in her thirty years in the business. I knew it when my dad simply said, “Thank you.”
About the Author
Ken Mosesian’s life has been punctuated with extraordinary experiences. Living and working in Switzerland after his junior year in high school and then exploring Europe after the program ended, opened Ken’s eyes to a world far beyond the small farming community in which he grew up.
In an “anything but traditional” career path, Ken earned his private pilot’s license, studied piano and pipe organ, worked as a Mental Health Counselor and as an Emergency Medical Technician, and served as an Executive Director of a national non-profit organization. His consulting work and public speaking focuses on brand and customer experience, and leadership and communication. Ken loves traveling the world with his husband and spending time at home with their Boxer.
Every one of these experiences contributed richly to who Ken is today. His first book – The Power of Promise: How to Win and Keep Customers by Telling the Truth About your Brand – is focused on something that Ken sees as critical not only to our personal and professional lives, but to our future well-being as a society: your word is your bond. No exceptions.