Naya Rivera’s family have reflected on the Glee star’s life one year after her tragic death, saying they would “hug a little bit harder” if they could go back and be with her.
Rivera, who rose to fame playing lesbian cheerleader Santana Lopez on the hit show, died in July 2020 in a drowning accident while swimming in Lake Piru in California with her son Josey. She was just 33-years-old.
Speaking to Good Morning America‘s Juju Chang, Rivera’s mother Yolanda Previtire said there are “no words to describe” what her family has been going through since Naya Rivera died.
Her sister Nickayla Rivera said they are doing their best to live life to the fullest and to love each other as much as they can.
“Because I know if we could go back, we’d hug a little bit harder.”
Previtire said she feels her daughter’s energy “constantly” telling her: “Mom, be happy. Don’t cry. I’m OK. Go get Josey. Have fun.”
“And I feel that it’s coming from her,” Previtire said. “I literally wake up every morning, and it’s almost like a restart button, and I have to shake it off… one foot at a time.”
Naya Rivera’s mother was ‘pushed backwards’ by a ‘force’ when her daughter went missing
Previtire and her daughter Nickayla went on to reflect on the terror that engulfed their lives when they found out Naya Rivera was missing in July 2020 after she went swimming with her son.
“It was a beautiful morning, I missed two of her FaceTime calls, and I called her back, and I said, ‘Naya, where are you?’ she’s like, ‘Oh, me and Josey, we’re going to go to the lake and I was gonna have him fish,'” Previtire recalled.
“I told her, I go, ‘Well the water’s getting choppy. I love you and call me when you get off the water.'”
People would come up to her all the time and say, ‘You saved my life.’
Previtire said she later spoke to her daughter while she was on the boat. Hours later, Josey was found by himself.
Reflecting on the moment she found out Naya Rivera was missing, Previtire said: “It was almost like a force. I don’t know what it was, but I literally was pushed backwards, just screaming.”
The next five days were “hell on earth” for the family as a search for Naya ensued.
“My faith told me that nothing is missing, surely, not a person,” Previtire said.
“Yes, we just can’t find them. So that was my thing. ‘God, you know where she’s at, just bring her back to us.'”
Nickayla also spoke about her decision to move in with Josey’s father and help raise her nephew following Naya’s tragic death.
“I knew right when it happened and right when we got him, I knew the role that I had to take,” she said.
Nickayla said Josey “loves entertaining” and “singing at the top of his lungs”, while Previtire described him as “a boy version” of Naya.
“Just his tenacity, his drive, his zeal, his adventure for life – he’s Naya in boy form,” she said.
Glee star Naya Rivera ‘didn’t know the impact that she had’
Elsewhere in the heartwrenching interview, Previtire and her daughter reflected on Naya Rivera’s legacy.
“You know, I honestly don’t think that she even knew the impact that she had,” Nickayla said, referring to the actress’s trailblazing performance as Santana Lopez.
“People would come up to her all the time and say, ‘You saved my life.’ My sister, even though she was acting, was touching people’s real lives and helping them become who they really are and not being ashamed of that.”
Previtire added: “I would like my daughter’s, Naya’s legacy, to be one that teaches people to love. Love who you are because you don’t get another life.”
Their comments come on the one-year anniversary of Naya Rivera’s death. There was an outpouring of grief among Glee stars and fans in July 2020 when it emerged that the actress and singer had vanished while swimming in Lake Piru.
As the days wore on, the search turned into a recovery mission as it became clear that Rivera had died.
She was laid to rest two weeks after her death at the Hollywood Hills cemetery Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Her death was later ruled an accidental drowning.