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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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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