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Mom Talk: A Tragic Drowning

Written by

Lakeya Collins

Photography by

Photo courtesy of Lakeya Collins. 

Lakeya Collins was nearly destroyed by the drowning death of her 16-year-old son, Robert. She tells the story here in heartbreaking detail, from her darkest moments of grief to how she fought her way back to life, and eventually found renewed purpose advocating for the health and safety of others kids and teens with Robert’s Law. If you want to learn more about Lakeya’s campaign to make Georgia’s lakes safer for all or find out how you can help, she invites you to send her an email. Read on for her incredible story.

It is every mother’s worse nightmare, losing a child. Unfortunately, I live in that nightmare now. On April 24, 2016, my 16-year-old son Robert asked to hang out with friends because the busy football season was quickly approaching. It was a Sunday, and I pride myself on raising my children in church. Yet, against my better judgement, I agreed that he could hang out with his friends instead. That ‘yes’ will forever haunt me until I leave this earth. My daughter Alyse was in her first year of college away in Atlanta, so it was just me and my 6-year-old son Brycen at church that Sunday. After church, I stopped by a friend’s house to get a bite to eat, and then I headed home to rest—I was exhausted from to working a double shift the day before. I turned my ringer off and left the phone on silent—something I rarely do, because I was so tired. I quickly fell asleep, but I was dreaming that I had a lot of missed calls on my phone. The dream felt so real that it startled me awake. I immediately checked my phone and noticed 28 missed calls. Before I could even see who they were from, my daughter was calling. I answered the phone frantically and she began to scream and cry with an agony I had never heard in all of my days. She screamed “Mommy, Robert drowned…”

I remember throwing the phone and just running and hollering. My memory after that moment begins to fade. There were family members and Robert’s football coach arriving to my house and the next thing I knew, I woke in an ambulance. My body had gone into shock. When I arrived at the hospital, there were dozens of people there, waiting in the parking lot. Once I was released from the hospital, I had the unimaginable task of planning my 16-year-old son’s funeral. “How did I arrive here?” My mind could not process that my oldest son was gone. I had never in my life felt this type of pain. My soul had literally left my body. I now know the meaning of existing, but not living. It’s an impossible sensation to explain to people who have not experienced it.

Yet, in the midst of this horrific tragedy, there were cracks of light. I did not expect the overwhelming love and support from strangers and the community. A few days after Robert’s death, the school planned the most amazing vigil that I have ever seen. Hundreds of people showed up at the football field the he loved so dearly. There was not an empty seat in the stadium. I decided to have two homegoing services. One here in Georgia—the only life Robert had known since the age of 2—and the other back home in New Jersey, where we were originally from. On May 6, 2016, a day before Mother’s Day, I said my last goodbyes to my son.

It was now time to start the real journey of grief. I had lost my grandmother several years earlier, so I had experienced a real loss, but that loss—of a woman who had lived a long and full life—could not compare to the devastation that I was feeling due to the loss of my beloved Robert. I was prescribed a variety of antidepressants, but soon realized that I couldn’t cope when I was on those pills. It was at that time that I had to channel every ounce of faith I had inside of me. I had to depend on God if I was going to keep going.

In the months after Robert’s death, I lost friends that had been in my life for years. It was mind blowing, I couldn’t understand it. My daughter Alyse and son Brycen were grieving, just as I was, but for the first time as a mother, I didn’t know what to do. I was broken and lost and had no clue how to even rebuild myself—so how could I help them? There were moments I thought I would be better off with Robert, but quickly had to change those thoughts, because I knew that wouldn’t be fair to Alyse and Brycen. I would talk to my mom and my siblings, but nothing they could say offered relief from the deep dark pain. I started communicating with God like I had never done before. Life was nearly over for me. I spent weeks in bed—not showering, not eating, not able to do anything at all. Then one day, I recall Brycen walking into my room. He said, “Mom…I need you.” In that moment I knew that I had to get up and fight. I couldn’t allow Brycen to lose his brother and his best friend, as well as his mother. I prayed and asked God to give me the strength to simply endure each moment. I found myself going back to church and beginning to open my bible again.

Then one day God spoke to me in a dream, and told me that he had named me for my purpose. He began to spell my name L A K E Y A. I realized that my name had the word ‘lake’ in it. I still didn’t really understand what God was trying to tell me. So, I began to look up lakes in Georgia, and I realized that Georgia ranked very high in this country for lake drownings, yet there were no lake safety laws protecting our children and teens. I started researching and found out that life vests are not required, nor does a teen have to be accompanied by an adult while swimming, I immediately felt that this was something that needed to be changed, so I began to reach out to legislators to help me propose Robert’s Law, which would ensure that all teens have be accompanied by an adult in order to swim at a public lake in Georgia, and that all lakes have life vests available to swimmers.

I soon realized that telling my story could perhaps help another grieving mother and family, and began to write my autobiography, All Is Not Lost, which was published in December, 2018.

My son had hopes of becoming a physician and was scheduled to graduate in May 2018. I was able to find the courage and strength through God and finish my registered nursing degree in July 2018, and walk across the stage with my son’s portrait. I continue to push for Robert’s Law in the hopes of knowing that my son’s vibrant life and tragic death were not in vain.

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  1. alex says...

    so moving. thank you for sharing, lakeya.

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