South Charlotte

Nonprofit helping terminally ill to cope

When a doctor tells a patient the patient is going to die, often the patient does that day - in a way.

Given months to live, some patients go home and never return to work. Others retreat from friends and family to suffer alone.

A new organization in Charlotte is countering the loneliness and hopelessness of terminal diagnoses by helping families and patients cope with illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS and sickle-cell anemia.

"We help to foster an atmosphere of positive transformation in the lives of the people who have been diagnosed," said the Rev. Darryl Radford, a former Baptist pastor who founded Dry Eyes of Innocence after two of his siblings received terminal diagnoses.

Radford started the nonprofit organization in 2007 in Dayton, Ohio, where he is from. The Dayton office is still open, but Radford recently moved the organization's base to Charlotte.

While Dry Eyes of Innocence will celebrate its grand opening Monday, Radford already has made connections in this area with medical professionals and other groups that work with terminal illnesses.

Radford realized people with terminal illnesses deserve more attention when his brother was diagnosed with leukemia and his sister with HIV/AIDS about the same time.

His brother has since died, and Radford said he was able to "watch him go from a state of panic to making his transition from this life to the next life with a spirit of peace and tranquility."

"Being able to be in place to help him transition and help my family make it through was just an awesome experience," Radford said.

It was then that Radford founded Dry Eyes of Innocence.

"Dry Eyes" refers to the questions that arise after grieving an initial diagnosis, and "innocence" refers to people not asking for a terminal illness. The group focuses on teaching empathy to family members and others supporting a terminally ill person and showing patients they still can live life despite their diagnosis.

Dry Eyes of Innocence helps patients realize, "I am still worth something and I do have something to contribute to society, and every moment I have I'm going to devote to being all I can be," Radford said.

He said he hopes the organization will be a resource for houses of worship that may have terminally ill people in their congregations.

"In most cases, pastors can sympathize and pray with the person, but after that there's no real application for them to recommend," Radford said.

Most terminally ill patients become interested in spiritual guidance," Radford said.

Dry Eyes of Innocence isn't based on religion, nor does it promote a particular religion, Radford said. "We encourage a relationship with whoever your god is to rebuild your spiritual health," he said.

That rebuilding frequently manifests as the patient developing an active prayer life and the family learning how to build on that spiritual aspect together.

The organization offers workshops for churches, hospitals and other organizations, as well as guidance sessions for families and supporters of terminally ill people.

The staff also is available to speak about terminal illnesses and rebuilding hope in the terminal-illness community.