A Gift of Love: Lessons Learned From My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa

A Gift of Love: Lessons Learned From My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa

by Tony Cointreau


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I wrote A Gift of Love because people kept asking me to do so, telling me that there was a great need for it. Perhaps it was their parents who were dying, or another family member, or a close friend, and they needed to know what they could do for their loved ones in those last weeks, days, or hours. They knew that I had worked with Mother Teresa as a volunteer in her homes for the dying, and had twelve years’ experience in what they were facing perhaps for the first time, and asked me to pass on some of my knowledge.

In 1979, when I saw a magazine photograph of one of Mother Teresa’s volunteers carrying a dying man in his arms, I knew in an instant that I had to become a part of this work. It was certainly not a religious calling, but a simple calling to give something of myself to others. I felt that if I could comfort one dying person, my life would have had purpose.

It took me ten years to enter the world that I had only seen a glimpse of in that magazine article. When I did, it was during the worst of the AIDS crisis in the United States, in a hospice called “Gift of Love” in New York City, which had been opened by Mother Teresa in 1985. It had room for fifteen dying men, most of them from a world I had never known?a world of drugs, poverty, and crime, a far cry from the privileged life of châteaus in Europe that I had been brought up in, and later on, the world of show business in which I had been able to fulfill some of my greatest dreams.

In the years to come, these men, who were dying of AIDS and had never been given much of a chance in life, taught me not only about the many ways to help others die in an atmosphere of peace and love, but also how to enjoy the richness of living our lives fully until the very end.

Whenever Mother Teresa asked me to sing for her on her little terrace in Calcutta, I never said “No.” And when I asked her to help me write about caring for loved ones in their last days, she also never said “No.” What a blessing—thank you, Mother!

If I can reach just one person who is flailing around in panic and fear while trying to help a loved one at the end of their life, my journey will have been worthwhile.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632260499
Publisher: Easton Studio Press, LLC
Publication date: 09/06/2016
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Tony Cointreau, a member of the French liqueur Cointreau family, was born into a life of wealth and privilege, growing up among the rich and famous. His maternal grandmother was an opera star, and Tony’s own voice led him to a successful international singing career. His paternal heritage put him on the Cointreau board of directors. But he felt a need for something more meaningful in his life—and his heart led him to Calcutta and Mother Teresa.

Tony’s childhood experiences—an emotionally remote mother; a Swiss nanny who constantly told him, “Mother only loves you when you’re perfect;” an angry, bullying older brother; and a sexually predatory fourth-grade schoolteacher—convinced him that the only way to be loved is to be perfect. He set out on a lifelong quest for a loving mother figure and unconditional love, and he found it with Mother Teresa and her work. She became another mother for him, as he describes in his memoir, Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa... and Me.

Tony volunteered in Mother Teresa’s hospices for twelve years, learning to give unconditional love, and helping more than one hundred people while they were dying.

Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Chapter 1 A Time to Be Born, A Time to Die 1

Chapter 2 Listening 11

Chapter 3 Touch 23

Chapter 4 Music 35

Chapter 5 Respect 43

Chapter 6 Never Assume Anything 53

Chapter 7 Helping Each Other 67

Chapter 8 Humor 77

Chapter 9 Doing Whatever You Have to Do 85

Chapter 10 Choices 93

Chapter 11 Faith 105

Chapter 12 Unconditional Love 117

Chapter 13 Non-judgment 131

Chapter 14 Signs from Beyond 139

Chapter 15 The Real Saints 155

Chapter 16 Never Forgotten 167

Afterword 177

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A Gift of Love: Lessons Learned From My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
MargoKelly More than 1 year ago
I’m so glad I took the time to read A Gift of Love, because it’s NOT a book about caring for people who are dying. It’s a book about caring – for everyone. While A Gift of Love is the title of this book, it is also the name of one of Mother (now Saint) Teresa’s hospices in New York where Tony Cointreau served for more than a decade. Tony came from an affluent background and a successful show business career, but instead of sitting back and relaxing, he chose to get up and get to work – mopping floors, changing adult diapers, and loving people marked as unlovable. He wrote in the Afterword, “Mother Teresa believed in the simple words of the great teachers such as Jesus and Buddha and lived not a ‘Christian’ life but a Christlike life—two very different things in my eyes. She tried to teach us all the simple philosophy of unconditional love for one another and the importance of being non-judgmental. Oh yes, and above all she wanted us to learn the joy of being of service with our two hands. Very simple and very beautiful. … I will never forget the many wonderful men and women I helped in their final hours of life, and how much more they gave to me than I could ever have given to them” (pages 179-180). This book was written in such a way that you could either read the entire thing from cover to cover (which I recommend for your first time through the book) or you could pick a topic (such as Touch, Respect, or Humor) from the table of contents and read a single chapter to gain more insight on that specific concept. The only chapter that felt a little out of place in this book was the one titled “Signs from Beyond.” Now understand, I fully believe in a life after death, and I believe that spirits exist among us, and I believe that some people can see, feel, and hear these spirits. However, this chapter felt disjointed from the others. Maybe it should have been its own book, especially considering Tony went into details of his own experiences with the mysterious realms of other spheres. But nonetheless, it is very common for dying people to see and communicate with the spirits of those who’ve passed on before them … so in that sense, I suppose this chapter had a place within the pages of this book. With that said, I absolutely loved all of the other chapters. Here are some my favorite nuggets from A Gift of Love: “None of us has to be a genius to make a difference in someone’s life or death. It takes no great intellect or training. It’s only a question of sincere listening and genuine caring. This can be the final gift from the person who knows you best in the world, or from a total stranger” (page 20). “Whether you are terminally ill or in the best of health, what could be better for your wellbeing than to feel useful to humanity? … Just see how good one simple act of generosity can make you feel—especially generosity of the spirit” (page 72). I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to lift their own mood or the moods of others. Tony’s writing is exceptional and the stories shared within A Gift of Love are uplifting and inspiring. I want to be a better person after reading this book, and I want to achieve that goal by following Tony’s example of service, kindness, and generosity. To paraphrase Tony: Take advantage of each precious opportunity to express affection and appreciation to other people, especially (but not limited to) those people who have enriched your life in any way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. This is what the world needs. More love. Tony is a beautiful soul who had the honor to work with Mother Teresa. Full of kindness & compassion.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Tony Cointreau lived his youth with a constant background message, “You must be perfect…” in order to be loved. So when Tony learned of the work Mother Teresa was doing with both sick and poor, it struck him as both too good to be true but also something he desperately had to experience. Unconditional love shared with those hungry in body, mind and spirit! Tony went to India but was so traumatized by the devastating poverty, he came back to America. Then he volunteered at a Greenwich Village, New York Hospice in 1990, a place specifically dedicated to caring for dying AIDS patient. This was brave work at a time that little was known about the disease and AIDS patients all too frequently died alone and suffering greatly. This book is the story of Tony’s volunteer experiences. Yes, it’s about what he learned and experienced but it’s also an inspiring book for those who want to learn how to “be” with those who are dying, with or without AIDS. The secrets shared are humbling experiences for both patients and volunteers who come to truly know the richness of listening, touch, sharing music, showing respect, bypassing assumptions, sharing humor no matter how severe a situation, doing whatever needs doing in the given moment, non-judgment, having faith (in something or someone – not necessarily church-oriented), and realizing saints are all around us and in us. These are just a few of the vibrant chapter headings that each contain poignant and powerful scenes exemplifying these virtues. A hug here and there when it’s the last thing one would normally imagine, sharing a make-believe, exaggerated, funny story with an elderly woman that makes her come alive for the first time in a long time, hugging a person with no visitors, holding a hand to give strength to someone in excruciating pain, avoiding those who would exploit the suffering and neediness of patients, allowing each individual the right to “choose” where and when to die, and so much more. Believe it or not; this isn’t a sad or saccharine book at all! It’s so full of vibrant hope and peace that it’s a privilege to read it. It certainly applies to every man, woman and child in the world. Mother Teresa was far from the serious person people put on a pedestal but her gift of unconditional love and life permeates every page of this book and of the man she mentored to serve life and thus be served! Moving, inspirational and highly recommended! Messages the reader will never forget and will hopefully live!