Ryan Dorsey Pays Tribute to Naya Rivera on Her 35th Birthday: 'She'd Be So Proud' of Son Josey

"At least once a day I find myself shaking my head, like it's still unbelievable, so surreal that she's gone," Ryan Dorsey tells PEOPLE in a statement on what would've been Naya Rivera's 35th birthday

Ryan Dorsey and Naya Rivera
(L-R) Naya Rivera, Ryan Dorsey, son Josey. Photo: Ryan Dorsey/Instagram

Ryan Dorsey is remembering Naya Rivera on what would've been her 35th birthday.

The actress, who was beloved for portraying Santana Lopez on Glee, died in July 2020 at age 33 as a result of a drowning accident.

In a statement to PEOPLE on Tuesday, Dorsey, 38, pays tribute to Rivera with whom he shared son Josey, now 6 years old.

"She knew how willing Josey was to share his things but she'd be so proud to see how he'll give things he loves away to friends or donate them," shares the Big Sky actor, who was married to Rivera from 2014 to 2018.

"He has this unique literal laugh-out-LOUD cackle of laugh when he's watching TV that's kind of obnoxiously endearing like hers was, but his even more so. No matter your mood, it would make anyone smile if you heard it," the father of one says.

"At least once a day I find myself shaking my head, like it's still unbelievable, so surreal that she's gone. She'd be freaking out today, I could almost hear her: 'OMG, I'm almost 40!' " he says. "It's hard to write this, tears coming out my eyes. Unf---ing real."

naya rivera
Naya Rivera. Taylor Jewell/invision/AP/Shutterstock

In July 2020, Rivera and her son Josey rented a boat at Lake Piru in Southern California. When the boat was not returned on time, staff found it on the north side of the lake with Josey sleeping in his life jacket on board, but the mother of one was not with her child.

Rivera was missing for five days before she was found on July 13. An autopsy later determined her cause of death to be an accidental drowning, and authorities determined that she likely saved Josey by putting him back on board the boat before she died. Rivera was laid to rest on July 24, 2020.

Last year, on Rivera's 34th birthday, Dorsey shared a tribute to her on Instagram, along with a black-and-white photo of the pair with their son.

"Just as surreal as it is real that you're gone. If that makes sense, but none of this still makes any sense…34..I could just hear you saying 'Ah, I'm old AF now!' Ha…Rest easy old lady…❤️ 💫 🤍🖤💫❤️," he wrote at the time.

And last June, Rivera's father George Rivera told PEOPLE that his late daughter was "looking forward to so many things" in her future. "She loved being a mother and you could see the maturity and satisfaction that Josey brought. It was a good time for her," he said.

Since Rivera's passing, Dorsey and her Glee costars, including Heather Morris, Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz, have honored her with tributes as well as through annual fundraisers for Alexandria House, an organization Rivera passionately supported.

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