by Bill Blinn
In the three years I watched a friend fight leukemia, I learned a lot about living. I knew Ray Jutkins for over 20 years and he was an unusual guy — never more so than during his illness.
More than once, Ray showed up in my driveway on his Harley. I should point out that Ray’s house was about 2100 miles away. Ray really liked riding his Harley.
Over the years we worked together, and met each other’s families. When I had a speaking engagement in San Diego, Ray insisted I stay a couple of days at Rockingham Ranch, and enjoy. “EnJoy” with a capital “J” was Ray’s favorite word, and he lived by it.
Ray threw his own wake in February, 2004, because “the dead guy never has any fun at the funeral”. A month earlier, doctors had announced he had at most six weeks remaining. Having already died and been revived twice during intense chemotherapy, Ray pronounced leukemia “good” because it caused him to rediscover his sister.
Ray’s wake was amazing. More than 100 people from all over the world showed up at his house outside Roll, Arizona. Roll is 30 miles east of Yuma and Ray’s house was five miles farther, beyond the “Pavement Ends” sign.
Because the wake was scheduled for week five of his expected six weeks, I’d expected to find him in a wheel chair or gurney. Instead, he was running around, supervising 50 people who had shown up to help pack for his move to California. Cheerful and full of life, Ray handed out coffee mugs as guests arrived. Next to his caricature, the cup read “I Survived Ray’s ‘Live’ Wake.” I cherish it.
In the months following the wake, Ray and Nancy returned to California to be near his daughter. They traveled. Several times he appeared to be down for the count, but bounced back. I keep a photo of him playing his first game of pool with his granddaughter and her college roommates, after he beat the double pneumonia everyone thought would kill him.
In December, Ray sent what he called his final “e-zine”. “When you get a call or an email from Nancy,” Ray wrote, “dig this out and use it.” On January 7, 2005, the email I didn’t want to see arrived.
I never once heard Ray complain. I told him I hoped, should I face anything a tenth as stressful, that I could face it with a fraction of the courage and grace he and Nancy demonstrated. He replied he was doing nothing special.
Perhaps that’s true. We all will die. But facing death, Ray didn’t avert his gaze. He looked death in the eye and gave the old buzzard quite a battle. Throughout his life — and particularly during his final three years — Ray provided lessons for all of us on living life to its fullest.
Ray died on January 6, 2005. I miss him, but his lesson lives on. Remember Ray Jutkins and… EnJoy!