For 16 years of his life, David Ray worked as head chef at Huntington University. Outside of school, he spent his days with his wife of 23 years, Christy Ray, and his sons Sam, Zach and Noah. He loved cooking, watching and quoting movies, and spending time outside with his family.
“If the boys were on the floor playing, he was on the floor playing,” Christy said. “He was just a big kid.”
The last time David was home to spend time with his family was during the weekend of July 22, 2016.
On July 25, 44-year-old David Ray was killed in a five-car pileup on I-55 while on his way to Chicago for his new job
“He went his way, and I went my way for the day,” Christy said. “I didn’t hear from him, which wasn’t unusual because he was busy working. I called him, and it went straight to voicemail. I didn’t think anything of it.”
As the day progressed and she still hadn’t heard from David, Christy started to feel that something was wrong. She called him multiple times, but he never answered.
Growing anxious, she finally made calls to David’s new workplace. They hadn’t heard from him. She next called the Indiana state police. Nothing. Illinois state police. Still nothing. Family members started making calls as well, while she looked online for crash information.
The Illinois state police finally called her back and said there was a crash that may have involved David. By the time they connected Christy with the medical examiner, it was two in the morning.
The place, the time, the van. It was all too coincidental. But they couldn’t be sure that the crash they were looking at had involved David.
“He [the M.E.] told me they weren’t even sure the remains in the crash were male or female,” Christy said. “On Tuesday we e-mailed the dental records and then all day it was just waiting, waiting, waiting.”
Christy finally received confirmation of David’s death on Wednesday July 27 from the medical examiner.
“I had just gotten out of my car to go to the post office,” Christy said. “I was in the middle of the road when the phone rang.”
Christy got back into the car with her mother, the medical examiner on the phone. He told her they were 100 percent sure. David had been killed in the crash they were investigating.
“It was like this whole relief came over me,” Christy remembered. “It was sad, but at least I knew. I mean, not knowing was just worse than anything.”
Many HU students were not on campus when the news was released because most were home for summer. For local students, David’s death hit closer to home, especially for sophomore education major Cassie Bradberry.
Bradberry had attended Bible Baptist Church with the Ray family since her senior year of high school.
“The love he had for his family was very clear through the way he interacted with them and treated them,” Bradberry said. “They were always close together, no matter what. He was an amazing father and husband.”
Coworker and fellow congregation member Ken Akins remembered David’s faithfulness to family and to God.
“David and I were in a conference away from his family and away from my family,” Akins remembers. “We were on our way to breakfast and Sam [David’s oldest son] called him because he was getting ready to go to school. Sam and David would always pray before Sam went to school, and as I’m driving to the conference, David is on the phone with Sam praying. David had built that into their lives, to look upward before starting their day.”
In the four months since David’s death, Christy has returned to work and is learning how to be a single mom.
“I feel like I’m doing really well,” Christy says, “and people will come up to me and gently ask how I’m doing. When I say I’m fine, they look at me like I can’t be fine. I really am!”
Noah Ray, a sixth grader at Crestview Middle School in Huntington, has had the most trouble dealing with the loss of his father.
“Noah was a big daddy’s boy,” Christy said. “He would climb into bed with me and cry and one night he asked me why it had to be his daddy. Why not the other guy, or the truck driver?”
Christy had an impossible decision to make. Tell her son what she felt was the truth, or tell him what she felt he could handle?
“I so badly wanted to say that maybe God took David because he was a Christian,” Christy said, “and maybe someone else in the crash wasn’t. But I wasn’t going to say that because he wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. I didn’t want Noah to be upset with God.”
Christy says that one of the biggest things that has changed in her life in the past months has been her faith.
“My faith is 100 percent given over to God,” Christy said. “Before, I used to just give him control of bits and pieces in my life when I was struggling. But then, it’s like, I hit rock bottom, and so I had to give God everything.”
Christy uses outlets like Facebook to share her journey as a single mom. For what would have been David’s 45th birthday, Christy took her sons to the cemetery where David is buried and shared the experience with her Facebook friends through a post:
“I was dreading today as it’s David’s birthday. But I feel blessed…Blessed because God gave me so many birthdays with him, blessed because the boys and I are able to celebrate today in our own way, and blessed because we have so many people that were in some way blessed by David in their lives and are thinking and continuing to pray for us. We are slowly healing and life looks brighter! So to a very wonderful person who blessed us as the leader of our family we say Happy Birthday…forever in our hearts!”