Matt Mauser Is 'Moving Through Grief' After Losing Wife Christina in Tragic Helicopter Crash
Matt Mauser and his three children mourn the loss of their beloved wife and mother every day.
Seven months ago on Jan. 26, Christina Mauser, 38, died in the helicopter crash that also killed Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six others, and Mauser, 50, is still haunted by the last moment he shared with his wife of 16 years.
"She said 'I love you,' and I was so tired I didn't fully wake up," recalls the musician, who had played a show with his band the Tijuana Dogs the night before. Christina, a basketball coach at Bryant's Sports Academy, was getting ready to leave for a tournament in Thousand Oaks, California.
"I didn't realize what had happened until she walked out our bedroom door," he tells PEOPLE.
Not long after her goodbye, Mauser received the news that changed everything: "I just fell to the ground," he says. "It was the worst moment of my life."
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Now, Mauser and his three children Penny, 12, Thomas, 10, and Ivy, 4, are slowly moving into a place of healing, aided by the love and support from their family, close friends and their community in Huntington Beach, Calif.
"I find myself having better days. I've gotten better at just kind of moving through the grief," he says. "The kids all have different responses. I've tried to show them that it's okay to be sad and vulnerable. Sometimes we just need to cry these things through."
Mauser, who is also the frontman of Sinatra Big Band, a tribute act, says that music has been especially therapeutic. He's channeled his grief into original songs, like "Lost," an emotional tribute to Christina, the acoustic version he's debuting below with PEOPLE.
"Being able to express how I feel on paper as a song, and writing music has been very helpful for me," he says.
Music is a family affair. Mauser and Christina originally met at one of Mauser's Tijuana Dogs shows in 2004, and earlier this year he and Penny wrote and recorded a song together called "Green Bike." There is also a lot of impromptu singing and dancing around the house.
"We have one song we sing, Sinatra's 'I Thought About You' — it's a beautiful song," says Mauser. "I play it on the piano, we all sing and we think of Mom."
Christina, an all-star athlete in high school, had found her true calling as a coach. Her husband introduced her to Bryant when Mauser was writing music for the athlete’s kid-friendly podcast "The Punies" and the NBA star needed an assistant coach for his Sports Academy. Christina, who had previously coached at Orange County's Harbor Day School, "was becoming the person she was meant to be,” in that role, says Mauser of his wife.
"[Kobe] gave her a lot of respect and let her do her thing," he says. "She felt really empowered."
And she loved her job. Affectionately called the "Mother of Defense" or "MoD" by her players, Mauser says "she'd come home after coaching and talk about how much she loved the girls."
In that spirit, Mauser wants to continue to honor his wife's legacy as a coach, mother and role model and is starting the Christina Mauser Foundation, which will offer scholarships to young female athletes struggling financially.
"I don't want my wife to just go unnoticed," he says. "I'm trying to honor what she would want."
Losing the love of his life has taught Mauser to appreciate the little things, and all that they shared in their 16 years together.
"I was very aware of how good she was at things in the moment, but I appreciate her even more now that it's me doing it," he says.
And while the family is still very much "in survival mode, we're getting there," says Mauser. They focus on finding joy in simple pleasures like Connect Four tournaments, beach days and trips to Yogurtland.
"My wife was my compass. My gift," he says. "I had 16 years with this amazing human being who taught me more than anybody else. And now I just have to be able to do that for my kids."
For more from Matt Mauser and his family, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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