A GIFT OF LOVE
Lessons Learned from My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa
By: Tony Cointreau
Published: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Prospecta Press
In honor of Mother Teresa’s canonization on Sunday, it’s the perfect time for me to tell you about one of her many ministries that were so important to her life.
Tony Cointreau spent a life living in wealth and privilege. He is a member of the Cointreau liqueur family and became a well-known international singer and performer. In 1979, Cointreau saw a magazine photo of one of Mother Teresa’s volunteers carrying a dying man in his arms and he knew immediately that he had to be a part of that work. He believed that if he could offer comfort to at least one dying person, then his life would have a purpose. Cointreau did much more than offer comfort to one, but to many in his twelve years of volunteering. His book shares lessons he learned while comforting those who were considered the lowest of society. He volunteered his time at Gift of Love, an AIDS Hospice house in New York City. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, much was still unknown about the disease of AIDS. Many clinics and hospitals were unwilling to care for those dying from the disease. No one would be turned away at Gift of Love and were treated with the utmost respect and care as if they were the most important person in the house. These patients included drug users, formerly incarcerated men, homeless men, and those who had no family willing to support them.
Cointreau had no concept of the types of lives these men lead to bring them to live their final days at Gift of Love, but one thing he learned from Mother Teresa was no judgment. Everyone was loved, fed, and cared for with no questions asked. His chapters offer lessons he learned during his many years volunteering including the power of touch, listening, music, laughter, faith, and respect. His stories remind us that these men are no different from any of us and just want to leave this Earth in comfort and surrounded by love.
I’m a hugger and have always been comforted by someone’s gift of a hug or gentle touch on the hand. This is usually my first way to offer comfort to someone. The men staying at Gift of Love hadn’t been touched by anyone due to their AIDS diagnosis. There was so much fear and misinformation about how the disease was transmitted at that time that people avoided them. When hugs or gentle touches were offered to these men, their pain and anxiety would disappear and they were calmer. I can’t imagine being in my final days and suffering alone or without someone holding my hand.
Cointreau’s stories of love, patience, friendship, and nonjudgment show that even in a society where we focus on the bad, there is still a lot of good going on in our world.
To read more about A GIFT OF LOVE, check out this excerpt:
While growing up, I always felt that love was conditional. Was I perfect enough to please the grown-ups? Was every hair in place? Were my clothes spotless, my schoolwork beyond reproach? Did I say the right thing, that didn’t sound childish?
I could go on and on with my dilemma of needing to be perfect in order to feel worthy of being loved. It was an illusion that I had somehow been conditioned to believe in—a very physically and emotionally exhausting way to go through childhood and beyond. The irony is that I knew from the start how to love others, but did not feel secure in the fact that I could receive it as well. No doubt my aunt Tata and my maternal grandmother, Mémé, saw through my obsession with my own perfection but were powerless to change the patterns of daily life in my home which had created the monster. I do remember Tata trying to build up my confidence by telling me that there was nothing I could possibly do, including murder, that could change her love for me.
And Mémé always wrote to me from Boston on my birthday that I was the most wonderful little boy in the world. Those were momentary panaceas that, in the long run, were not enough to change my neurotic need to feel that I really was good enough to be loved unconditionally. For years I searched for that love and found it in bits and pieces by attaching myself to “other mothers”— women who cared for me as though I were their child. Lee Lehman was the first when I was thirteen. Then came Ethel Merman, when I was eighteen. Both relationships lasted a lifetime. But my final healing was from the little Albanian nun, Mother Teresa.
I had been immediately drawn to this tiny, bent-over woman and her legion of Missionaries of Charity Sisters when I first saw that magazine picture of a volunteer in the Home for the Dying in Calcutta carrying a man in his arms—a man he had undoubtedly never known before. This volunteer had been able to love the man without reservation simply because he was a human being in need of comfort and care in the last hours of his life.
That was the legacy Mother Teresa was giving to the world and I knew immediately that it contained something I had been seeking my whole life. I didn’t care what religion she practiced. I just knew that being around her would be a giant step in healing the child within me that had never felt perfect enough to deserve the love she offered. If I were given the chance to freely give that kind of love, I knew I would be able to receive it as well.
I believe it to be the most powerful force in the world.
The above is an excerpt from the book A Gift of Love: Lessons Learned From My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa by Tony Cointreau. Copyright © 2014 Tony Cointreau
|Tony Cointreau and Mother Teresa – source
Tony Cointreau, author of A Gift of Love: Lessons Learned from My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa, is a member of the French liqueur Cointreau family. He 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.
For more information please visit his website, HERE
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