Addi Ray

Submitted / The Herald Elmore County senior Addi Ray, right, poses with her late mother, LaKeisha Tucker Ray. Addi has been selected as a regional winner of a Bryant-Jordan Scholarship.

Nobody can be fully prepared for the grief that comes with losing a parent, but Elmore County senior Addi Ray was as prepared as possible when she lost her mom in December.

Ray’s mom, LaKeisha Tucker Ray, died December 31 after a nine-month battle with stomach cancer. While it certainly hasn’t been easy for Addi dealing with the loss the last four months, LaKeisha prepared Addi and her brother, MJ, the best she could given the circumstances.

LaKeisha lost her father when she was 15 and wasn’t able to say goodbye due to him drowning unexpectedly while on a beach trip.

So as she was battling her cancer, LaKeisha made sure to express to Addi and MJ exactly how she dealt with the grief of losing a parent so young.

“She taught us the true reality of grief and she taught us how she coped with losing a parent young,” Addi Ray said. “She always prayed that we would never lose a parent young, but when we did, I made sure that I told her she prepared us more than any other person could be prepared for it. She taught us what it was like and how to handle it and how to not lose ourselves in the process. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever met.”

Dealing with the loss of her mom hasn’t come easy.

Ray, who has a 4.22 grade-point average and is ranked in the top five of the senior class at Elmore County, has had to balance her grief with her academics, her senior season on the soccer team and her therapy.

She was honored for her achievements though, as she was named one of 52 regional winners in the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program’s Student Achievement category, which honors senior student-athletes who have overcome personal adversity to excel.

All regional winners receive a $3,000 scholarship and could win more when statewide winners are announced at the annual Bryant-Jordan banquet Monday in Birmingham.

She will take that scholarship money to Auburn University, where she has been accepted into the honors program.

Ray never expected to win any kind of scholarship for being an athlete, as she says she hasn’t been an athlete her entire life. She’s danced and played softball throughout her life, but she’s been on the soccer team for only her junior and senior seasons.

She also participated with the Maroon Machine band this fall, serving as an actor in their show.

“My brother has always been more of an athlete than me, so winning something based on athletics was really cool,” Ray said. “For me, the impact the award really had on everybody who got it meant a lot because I really did go through something hard with my life. When you go through something like that, it’s hard to see the good in it but this is kind of like the Lord is showing me that there will be good in everything.”

While Ray has continued to work hard and credits the study habits she’s developed over the last few years to her success, she said the school has also been extremely helpful.

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LaKeisha was a teacher at ECHS and was loved by the community. When she died in December, the school was patient with Addi and MJ about their school work as they dealt with her passing.

The school put Addi’s mental health before anything, which she was appreciative for. If she missed any class work due to therapy or things like driving her mom to the hospital during her cancer battle, the school would make sure she got all the work she missed.

It made it more of a challenge, especially with Ray having soccer practice and games all throughout the spring, but she has taken advantage of senior free periods.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Ray said. “But I spend a lot of my free periods working on missed school work. The school has been extremely helpful with making sure I get what I need and am still able to excel. They’ve been nothing short of great with me.”

While LaKeisha prepared Addi about the grief of losing a parent, Addi didn’t know the full extent of feeling grief until after her mom’s death.

She’s coped with the grief with therapy, which her dad, Mike, put her and MJ in back in August. Along with therapy, she’s relied on Mike and MJ as her rocks and has grown closer than ever with both of them.

More importantly, she’s developed a deeper relationship with Christ.

When people ask what keeps her going, the only firm answer she can give them is her relationship with Christ. She developed a really close relationship with Jesus about a month before her mom died, and she knows that was the Lord’s timing and she would not get through this without him.

As she enters her last month of senior year, she is taking her grief day by day. She knows she will never get over it, but she will find better ways to deal with it.

For now, however, her main frustration is the fact that her mom isn’t here to spend her senior events like this past weekend’s prom with her.

“You never really think these events like prom, Senior Night or graduation would ever be sad times of your life but now they are,” Ray said. “But it’s even smaller things like a fight with a friend or something. My dad understands, but I want my mom’s perspective on them. There was nobody like her. The biggest challenge is the fact that she’s just not here and I have to come to terms with that.”

Ray wants people to know her story and know her struggle with grief. She says a lot of people have gone through similar experiences and don’t know what to do. They may not have lost a parent, but they go through an experience and feel alone like she has at times the last few months.

Many student-athletes with similar experiences will be honored during Monday night’s banquet in Birmingham. All 52 regional winners will be honored and will be eligible to earn more scholarship money.

Each individual region winner is eligible to compete within their class (eight finalists in Class 5A) for an additional $3,500 scholarship. The winner of each class, from 1A to 7A, is eligible to win the Overall Scholar-Athlete Award which wields an additional $4,000 scholarship.