Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Delilah
Radio personality Delilah has flexed her writing skills once again. The nighttime radio host's latest book, "Arms Full of Love: Inspiring True Stories that Celebrate the Gift of Family" goes on sale Tuesday. She spends her evenings listening to stories about love and loss and entertaining more from her 8 million listeners. During the day, she has her hands full with 12 children and 10 grandchildren. Three are hers from previous marriages, and nine are adopted. She lost her son Sammy to sickle cell anemia in March. Married and divorced three times, she now dedicates time to her foundation, Point Hope, which helps Liberian refugees in Buduburam, Ghana. She was in Pittsburgh earlier this month for Paint the Town in Lawrenceville.
You are so authentic on the radio. Do you ever feel too vulnerable?
Yes, of course. You know, when you are being real and you are putting your heart out there and you are going through tough stuff, sometimes you get slammed.
In the book, you begin each chapter talking about the people in your life, your family and friends. So does anyone ever say to you: Please don't mention me?
Oh yeah, yeah, I've got a couple of family members who are like "I would prefer never to be in the limelight."
As a matter of fact, my sister was very, very protective of my parents and my grandparents because we are a pretty close family. She really didn't want the dysfunctional stuff out there. So I said, "OK, I'll make a deal with you. I will have you read anything I write before it goes to anybody else's eyes. If you think it's hurtful or shows Mom and Dad in a light that's not honest and loving, then you'll have the say. You can be the first to edit.
So she went along with that?
Yeah, she still wasn't happy but ...
Are you different in the role of grandmother vs. mother?
No, because my grandkids spend time with my kids. I have children who are younger than my grandchildren. So I can't be the doting, spoil-you grandma with no boundaries like I would like to be sometimes while I'm setting boundaries with my children. You just can't do that when you have a multi-generational family.
If your parents weren't religious, how did you get that way?
My parents were not religious. But when my brother went to college, he met a beautiful young woman named Ann Warner, fell in love and wanted to date her. She had a very deep faith and she said, "Well I'm gonna kind of wait on God and see who I'm supposed to be with."
My brother said, "Well, I think I'm that person."
She said, "You don't really have a relationship with God."
So my brother was the first in our family to find his faith. When he was 26, he disappeared. He and Ann were flying to see me and meet my newborn son, and they disappeared in a plane accident. I went through that experience losing him, and we really did lose him. We didn't find any wreckage for several years.
It was through searching for his plane and searching for his remains and searching for them that I stumbled upon my faith and gave my heart to God. I was 28.
It was losing him that brought you to faith?
Yes, very much so. I needed to know that I would see him again. I needed to know there was a reason. I had just given birth and within six months I lost my brother, my sister-in-law, my husband moved in with his girlfriend and I lost my job. Here I am, a single mom with a newborn son and a brother who has just vanished into thin air. I needed to know why I was still here, you know?
Other people might take a different view and say there is no God. Because you came to your faith, has it ever really been shaken?
Yeah, one time my faith was really shaken, which wasn't so much my faith shaken -- it didn't make me not believe in God -- it made me question my ability to hear God's voice. Ever since I gave my heart to God, we've had an awesome relationship.
So what was it that made you think you couldn't hear it anymore?
When my Mom passed away. She had brain cancer. I was convinced during her illness -- I mean, convinced to the core of my being -- that she was going to be healed. She was going to beat this thing. When she died I just sat there going, "How could that have happened?" I was sure I had heard God say, "Don't worry about it. She is going to be healed."
So for two or three years after that I had a real struggle thinking, "Well, if I could have misunderstood that, I could have misunderstood everything."
How did you get started going to Africa to help the refugees?
That's a long story. It was Dec. 8, 2003. I was on the air and I get dozens of emails a night. While I'm playing songs, I'm taking calls and I'm reading emails. I was reading through my emails and I came upon one that said:
"Dear Madame: I understand that you adopt black children. Would you consider adopting mine? We live in a refugee camp in Africa, and the children are starving to death. We have no food and no water. If not, may you be blessed anyway. Sincerely, Winifred Tickley."
I wrote back, "Who are you and how did you get my name?" I got a reply back.
"My name is Winifred Tickley, and I live in a refugee camp called Budaburam. I was in a chat room soliciting help, and somebody suggested I contact you."
I went to World Vision, which was my charity of choice at the time. I asked them if they could find out if this was real. They had an office on the ground in Ghana just about a half-hour from this refugee camp. They said it's very real. This woman is a very real person -- we met her.
The three children she speaks of are not her children. They are her siblings that she saved from the civil war. When she was 16 years old, she fled on foot with three small children and saved their lives. They are starving to death. They said, "You can go to Ghana and see for yourself what you can do."
I said, "I'm a single mom. I have six kids. I kind of have my plate full right now. Several of my children have issues. My daughter is asthmatic. My son is autistic. I can't really go to Africa. If I ever do get an opportunity to travel, it will be to the south of France. But since I never traveled before and I don't even have a passport, I don't see that happening anytime soon."
Eight weeks later, I was on my first plane trip and I was going to Africa. I got there and discovered indeed there were 87,000 people living on 126 acres with no fresh water, no toilets and no hope. I got back and I had to do something. I couldn't get the images out of my head.
It must be hard coming back to all the abundance here after being there.
It blows your mind in such a way that I developed what World Vision calls reverse culture shock. I came back and I despised myself. I despised my life. I saw myself for the gluttonous, selfish, self-centered woman I had become. Not on purpose, but just because we live in a society that is so spoiled.
I had never once in my life considered that it is a privilege to have fresh water. When I saw 2- and 3-year-old kids walking 3 or 4 miles along a busy road to get to a lake so they could get water and put it in a bucket and carry it back on their head, I realized fresh water is a blessing. It's a gift.
What are the chances of you adopting more children?
[Laughing] I think I cannot say because if I do, certain people will have me put in handcuffs and carted away to a funny farm.
Tell me what it's like to be recognized by your voice and not your face when you are in public.
It's very surreal. When I'm just talking -- blah, blah, blah -- people will look at me and they will stare at me like they're trying to place it. I have had so many people say, "Why do I feel like I know you?" All I have to say is "You are listening to Delilah." Then they are, "Oh my God! I knew that was you. I go to bed with you every night!" [Laughing] When I want to go incognito I just call myself De.
You have the best of all worlds there.
Oh, I do. I am so blessed because I never had the paparazzi following me around. I don't have to worry about being on the cover of a magazine and somebody saying I'm fat or talking about my dysfunctional love life or the horrible, horrible things they say and write about people in the spotlight. So I have been able to avoid all that and yet I have a lot of the blessings that go with [success in show business].
I know you are going on vacation, so thanks for doing this.
I'm not going on vacation. I'm going back to Africa to save more kids.
First Published September 24, 2012 12:00 am