Tony Cointreau could never say no when his friend, Mother Teresa, asked him to sing for her. Likewise, when Cointreau asked Mother Teresa for help in writing “A Gift of Love – Lessons Learned From My Work and Friendship with Mother Teresa” his book about caring for loved ones in their last days, she never said no, despite the fact that she died in 1997.“I said, ‘Mother, please help me,’ and I felt this presence over my right shoulder,” Cointreau explained. “And after about two or three hours of writing I looked at what I had written and I thought, holy moly!” Mother Teresa came to him and helped him with the book. “She was no longer here with us on the earth plane, but she was with me and I feel very protected,” he added.
WORK IN CALCUTTA & NYC
The two got to know each other when Cointreau, moved to act after seeing a magazine photo of Mother Teresa carrying a dying man, got involved in the late nun’s works. He worked with her in Calcutta, and in New York City during the height of the AIDS crisis, caring for dying patients at a hospice Mother Teresa opened called “Gift of Love.” In his book, Cointreau teaches us what he learned by helping these AIDS patients, who were friendless and shunned by family. There are simple ways to make someone’s last days peaceful, and to ease their fears. “Simple things like listening, touch, choices, humor, non-judgment, respect, music, and of course unconditional love which is the most powerful force in the world.” He would sing quietly to the patients, which he found to be very powerful. “You cannot imagine the change that came over these people, the fear was gone from their faces, and the pain seemed to be gone,” he says.
Today, instead of dying at home, the sick and elderly are shuttled off to institutions, and often forgotten. “Visiting them, at least being there for them, that is very, very simple.” About caring for AIDS patients in those early days, Cointreau says that Mother Teresa was asked hundreds of times what she thinks of AIDS patients, and hundreds of times she answered, “I judge no one.” “She lived it,” he adds.
BORN INTO PRIVILEGE
Devoting years of his life to helping the poor and sick may seem an odd choice for Cointreau, who was born into privilege to the family that produced orange-flavored French liqueur of the same name. As an adult, he became an internationally renowned singer, performing everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Las Vegas. After catching his show in New York, fashion designer Pierre Cardin launched him in Europe, arranging for Cointreau to sing at Maxim’s in Paris. But Cointreau’s life was not always happy. As a child, he was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher, something he didn’t reveal for 40 years, during which he suffered from panic attacks. And there were improbable coincidences in his life, notably becoming a close confidante of Ethel Merman. He documented this in a previous book, a memoir, “Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa… and Me.”
And Mother Teresa is still helping him with the new book, even now that it’s done. “A couple of months ago when we knew we were putting the book out on September 6, I talked to Mother, as I am want to do, and I said, ‘Mother, what can we do to give this book a boost?’ And the next day the Pope announced that Mother was going to be canonized on the 5th of September,” Cointreau says. “A couple of weeks later I was talking to Mother again – we have chats – and I said, ‘Mother, what could we do to make it even a little more meaningful?’ And the next day the Pope came out and said she was going to be canonized on the 4th of September [instead], which is my birth mother’s birthday.” Mysterious ways, indeed.