Uncommon compassion. That’s the phrase I must have thought 100 times as I read Tony Cointreau’s beautiful book, A Gift of Love: Lessons Learned From My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa. The compassion displayed on the pages of this book take my breath away. More than once, I thought, “The world needs more Mother Teresas and Tony Cointreaus.” Too often we think about our own struggles and fail to realize that, compared to those of others, we should be embarrassed by what we call misfortunes.
In the Author’s Words:
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.
Other words that frequently came to mind while reading A Gift of Love were bold and refreshing. Tony Cointreau’s work with men who were dying from AIDS was especially bold because you have to remember, at that time, ridiculous fears were still rampant. Research had not proven so many of the theories WRONG about how AIDS could be contracted.
In spite of the great perceived risk, his compassion and love for fellow human beings will leave a lasting impression on the reader. The manner in which he (and others) allowed these men to maintain their dignity while facing their last days doesn’t tug at the heart strings… it ties them up in knots.
The pain of a loss can be excruciating, but it need never defeat you. It can tear you apart, but you can rise again, and if given the opportunity to aid and participate in the final days, hours, and moments of someone’s life, you, the participant, will never be the same either. Any love and comfort that we give leaves both the giver and the receiver in a different realm than before. – page 8
What sort of wold would we live in if we all treated one another with respect, dignity, and uncommon compassion? Put another way… what if we all treated one another the way Jesus taught?
Jesus. There is another reason this book strikes me as bold and refreshing. The author is not the least bit hesitant to mention God or His Son, Jesus. By name! If this doesn’t strike you as unusual, you must not read as many “self help” or “inspirational” books as I do. Then again… who (outside of publishers) does?! A huge pet peeve of mine is when authors – or anyone, for that matter – refers to God as “a higher power” or “the man above…” I’m fairly certain that if they had a loved one in the emergency room, they wouldn’t say, “Higher power, would you please help..”
No. They’d know His name then!
For an author to speak of God or talk about Jesus as freely as he would Mother Teresa or his own family was just what this book reviewer needed. It was encouraging to see.
Truth be told, the entire book was a lesson in encouragement, compassion, and enlightenment.
A hug or the human touch is not a danger with AIDS or most other diseases. The only thing society should fear is not having enough love to comfort someone in their agony so that they can leave this world with a feeling of peace. – page 28
Who Will Love This Book?
When doing book reviews, I often like to tell my readers who will love the book I’m reviewing. In this case, the answer to the question, “Who will love this book?” is simple – everyone. The book reads as though Tony Cointreau is your very personable, witty, warm, and well-spoken dinner guest. You know, the kind who leaves begging for more stories as your food gets cold.
I plan to pass A Gift of Love around to everyone in my family, because it is simply a beautiful and uplifting lesson in life. How Mr. Cointreau takes a subject as grim as dying and makes it an uplifting journey for the reader is mind-boggling, but that’s exactly what he has accomplished.
I judge no one. – Mother Teresa
I hope you’ll grab a copy of A Gift of Love right away. There are books that touch you, there are books that are great reads, and there are books that you know will stay with you forever. This is one of the rare books that answers to all three.