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.