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The bittersweet ending to a beautiful life
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Faye Whitaker, left, and Hospice Advantage social worker Kim Williams cared for Ray at home during his last days.

    For all intents and purposes, Ray Whitaker’s life ended the night of May 21.
    Whitaker and his wife, Faye, of Stilson, had been to the viewing of his father at a local funeral home and were on their way home, Faye in her truck and Ray on his motorcycle behind her. They were traveling on Georgia Highway 119 near Georgia Highway 24, when Faye, rounding a curve, looked back and noticed that her husband’s headlight was no longer shining behind her. She headed back around the curve to find Ray, on the ground in a comatose state. He had hit a deer.
    Ray was airlifted to Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center in Augusta and remained there in a comatose state for months before being transferred to Eagle Nursing Home in Statesboro on Sept. 7. Faye, realizing that her husband was not going to get better, called Hospice Advantage in Statesboro to help her bring him home, where, with the hospice staff’s help, she could tend to him.
    Ray died Oct. 3. His funeral was held four days later.
    Recently Faye, along with Kim Williams, the Hospice Advantage social worker who helped care for her husband at home, shared the bittersweet story of Ray’s last days.
    At home, Ray’s needs were great. His wife had her work cut out, but she wasn't alone; Williams was there to provide “custodial care.”
    Faye had a hospital bed set up, with her husband’s motorcycle gear all around him. She had his leather jacket and vest hanging on either side of his bed and his boots just underneath the bed.
    “This is how Ray always prepared himself the night before he took one of his motorcycle journeys with his friends,” she said.
    Williams said that Faye “became a wonderful element of consolation to family and friends during and after the funeral. She has remained strong and very active in our grief group, helping others to cope with their losses.”
    “I rely upon my faith in God to help me through each day. That’s what Ray would have wanted me to do,” Faye said.
    Ray retired from the Navy and Coast Guard in 1989 and Gulfstream in Savannah in 2008 and had become active in local motorcycle clubs, traveling around the U.S. While at Gulfstream, he created a “smart book” of ideas and plans that Gulfstream continues to use today.
    He had shared once with his grandson that when he died, he wanted his motorcycle friends to come to his funeral and rev up their engines 21 times at graveside — an alternative to the military 21-gun salute, for which he was not eligible.
    Many of his motorcycle friends, both from the Christian Motorcycle Association and The Patriot Guard, attended his funeral in force — and as he had requested, 21 motorcycles revved up their engines at his graveside. Some carried flags, bugles were played, and an American flag was folded and given to Faye at the close of the service.
    “It was really one of the most moving events I’ve ever attended,” Williams said. “I have an entirely different understanding of motorcyclists now.”
    “I have had an inner peace since Ray’s passing because he always assured me that death was just another one of his journeys,” Faye said. “I’ll make that same journey one day and be reunited with the man I fell in love with over 42 years ago.”

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