Dunlevy Pens Book on How To Help During Difficult Times
After her infant son, Brandon, died in 1999, former television and radio personality Sherrie Dunlevy was touched by the outpouring of support from the Ohio Valley community.
“We were lifted up and loved and prayed over. We would not be here today if people hadn’t been there for us,” Dunlevy said.
And yet, some people she thought might have reached out, didn’t. It made her wonder, why? It was hurtful, she said, and some friendships never recovered.
Years later, she kept returning to the question of why and began surveying friends and strangers about how they were helped after going through difficult circumstances, and how they helped others.
Dunlevy gathered the information and then sifted through it and developed it into her first book, “How Can I Help: Your Go-to Guide for Helping Loved Ones Through Life’s Difficulties.”
“You’ve been in those instances where something happened and you don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes you’re so frightened you don’t want to face it,” Dunlevy said in an interview. “This is for people that really want to do something to help someone and just don’t know what to do.”
The bottom line, Dunlevy said, is that when tragedies strike, prayer and being there are the most appreciated.
It’s not helpful to say, “Call me if you need anything.” “They are not going to call. They are never going to call,” Dunlevy said.
People make excuses about not wanting to bother the person, remind the person of the deceased loved one or bring up an emotional subject.
“They say, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to make them cry.’ They’re crying anyway,'” Dunlevy said.
In the 95-page book, Dunlevy has chapters on death, terminal or chronic illness and disability, and unemployment and divorce.
In the death chapter, Dunlevy said every person she surveyed listed “being there” as what was most important to them. Listen to them, cry with them, and don’t disappear after the funeral.
She lists other tips gleaned from her informal research, such as calling, sending notes and bringing food and drinks. She liked the idea of bringing breakfast food. In her own experience, Dunlevy said for months following Brandon’s death, a local family sent her a card every week letting her know they were thinking about and praying for her and her husband.
“Here, 18 years later, that had an impact on me,” Dunlevy said.
She also lists unhelpful words and actions, including not showing up for the funeral, changing the subject too quickly or saying “Your loved one is better off now.”
In the illness chapter, Dunlevy writes it’s OK not to know what to say. The person may not need you to say anything. A cancer survivor she interviewed said he wished more people had asked him how he was feeling. Another said she was glad people still asked her to do things in the community.
This chapter also offers tips for how to care for caregivers, offering respite, meals and cleaning, for instance.
What not to do in the situation of illness or disability? Compare your own condition, doubt their condition and make jokes about it.
Dunlevy, a wife and mother of a West Virginia University junior, calls herself a “personal development junkie.” She said she feeds herself “a steady diet of positivity” and felt spiritually led to write this book.
“I am stretching myself into something I’m not used to being. I know how to do TV. I know how to do radio. I don’t know how to do author,” she said. She has had to become “comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Through prayer and support from her friends, family and her colleagues at Nerium, a skincare products company for which she is a representative, she was able to see the project through.
“Every time I was so afraid to walk through one door, as soon as I walked through, another one would open and another one and another one,” Dunlevy said.
She has more work to do: She said she feels called to expand on what she’s written, opening it up to different cultures and religions, and learning how to support people with family members who are addicted and/or incarcerated.
She said she feels Brandon completed his life’s mission in the 29 days he was here.
“It was his journey, but it was only part of mine,” she said. “My mission is still going on.”