According to reports, 33-year-old Naya Rivera, best known for her part on the show “Glee,” drowned in California’s Lake Piru last week in a tragic accident while on the water with her 4-year-old son.
And while the loss of Rivera—who has been remembered online and by many coworkers as a gentle, loving soul—is wrenching, it’s the way that her life ended that is tugging at the heartstrings of so many mothers. One of the sheriffs who was working on the case after Rivera’s 4-year-old son was discovered alone on the pontoon boat she had rented, recently held a press conference to share with the public the details that they had pieced together about the last moments of Rivera’s life.
Initially, investigators weren’t sure what had happened to Rivera. After she had rented the boat, she had not returned it, and it was overdue by about 4 hours when her son was spotted sleeping alone on the boat, curled up on deck in his lifejacket. The other lifejacket was found still on the boat, but Rivera was missing.
Now, however, a more complete picture of what happened has been released. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, it’s thought that as the mother-son pair had taken a quick dip in the water, the boat had started drifting away because it was unanchored. And although Lake Piru can appear calm on the surface—and even though Rivera herself was quite familiar with the Lake, having spent a lot of time in the water there—it doesn’t take much for even a healthy, in-shape person to become exhausted in the water without a lifejacket on.
Investigators have speculated that as the boat began drifting away, Rivera was forced to swim with her son to get him back to safety, most likely fighting against a sudden, strong current in the water. And because she didn’t have a lifejacket on, the fight, tragically, became one that cost her life.
The sheriff made the statement that it’s thought that Rivera quite literally gave everything she had to save her son. She used the last of her strength to able to swim to the boat and somehow hoist him up over the side to safety—only to collapse back into the water, completely exhausted herself.
“She mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself,” Ayub said.
Rivera’s son, Josey, also told investigators that his mom gave him a “boost” onto the boat, but when he looked back at her, he watched as she disappeared under the water. Autopsy reports confirmed that Rivera died from accidental drowning.
And while the world around us is filled with so many hard things right now, as a mom myself, the news of Rivera’s death has haunted me. I keep thinking of how awful her last moments must have been, wondering if her son would be OK, hoping someone would come along to find him, silently begging him to stay on the boat and not go in after her.
There are so many things that we could say about what happened that day—it’s a harsh lesson to all of us, as we enjoy the summer months, to practice water safety and a hard reminder that we need to hug our babies even closer to us today, but to me, Rivera’s story also represents the immense and powerful love that mothers have for their children.
This is a woman, a mother, who quite literally, gave everything she had for her son. As mothers, we live our lives practicing a delicate balance of giving to our children and caring for ourselves, knowing that motherhood takes enormous sacrifice on every level. And yet, we know, deep down, that it’s all worth it, because our children are our greatest accomplishments.
We know we would do anything and everything for them, right down to giving our lives. At this very moment, mothers are fighting for their children—they are leading protests and campaigning for change. They are organizing petitions and gathering information to make decisions about school in the fall. They are fiercely guarding their babies, even before they are born, bringing them into the world with masks on and bravery blazing.
The collective power of mothers is something beautiful to behold, and I like to think that it was that shared love for our babies—the one that binds us all—that carried Rivera through her last moments, giving her the strength to lay down her life for her son. And even as my heart breaks for her to leave her baby, and for that baby to grow up without his mother, I like to think it’s that same love that will live on for him and through him, even after she is gone.
Because nothing is more powerful than the love of a mother.