There were five of them shot and killed in the newsroom – John, a longtime sports writer for the paper who’d been moved inside the office, knower of all things basketball in Maryland and D.C.; Rob Hiaasen, the editor and a columnist for much of his career; Rebecca Smith, a recently hired sales assistant; Gerald Fischman, the editorial page editor and a beloved Gazette employee of 25 years; and Wendi Winters, a community correspondent and mother of four, whom the six survivors in the office credit with saving their lives after she charged the attacker with a trash can and recycling bin.
Those five casualties don’t include Rebecca Smith’s fiancé or the three wives and the eight children. They don’t include the six co-workers who hurdled bodies on the floor and the co-workers not in the office during the shooting, who came back to an active crime scene to put out a paper for the next day. Or the law enforcement officers and EMTs, who could never un-see the dead on the newsroom floor.
Andrea joined them all in mourning, joined America’s fastest-growing support group – trauma survivors of a mass shooting, the broken people left behind to walk into the silence of sorrow.
"There's a before and after to my identity now,” she said. “What I really want to say is ‘I am the wife of John McNamara. But there's something about that 'W' word that doesn't come out quite right. I have to say, ‘I am the widow of John McNamara.’ It's changed everything. It's changed my identity, people's response to me, it's changed what I think of myself. It’s a big life change.”
Christmas cards still hang on her living-room wall. Two plastic-potted poinsettia plants from December sit cracked and dried in front of the glass door leading to the patio. It is now May.
Except for bills and other necessities, she's given herself permission to get things done when she feels like getting them done. She rarely goes in John's office, where the urn of his remaining ashes sits atop the bookcase, competing for space and time with a portrait of John looking up from the Georgia Dome’s press row on April 1, 2002 – the night Maryland, his alma mater, won its only men’s national basketball title.
Since July, the covered patio they shared after long work days has been vacant. The top of the antennae on the ancient SONY two-band radio John listened to Nationals and Orioles games on is covered by a cobweb.
“I haven't been able to sit out there,” she said. “Not last summer and not since. Sometimes I come home and I say, 'I hate my house. I hate my house.' But I am going to hate a new one, too."
Before and after dusk are the hardest hours, when the grief deepens and she just feels defeated, sad, lonely. At least once a day she cries, “because I miss John, and I miss my lost vision of our future together. Today, for the first time, I cried just because I'm so tired.”
And yet, on her dining-room table rests her proudest accomplishment since John’s death – a 500-page draft of a manuscript. He had worked on his most ambitious project for 13 years, a book titled, "The Capital of Basketball: A History of D.C. Area High School Hoops." Andrea finished it for him, writing a bit of each chapter between 1900-2000, the years chronicled. She captioned all 178 photos and struck a deal with Georgetown Press to publish a 312-page book in November.
Yoga and fitness were part of her life before last June. But they’ve taken on a greater meaning the past 10 months -- half healing balm, half distraction. A temporary tattoo, “Warrior,” is stenciled on her right biceps, and "Keep Going" is spelled out on her left biceps. They are so well-defined, her friends call them "Michelle Obama arms." Turning 58 in March, Andrea can hold a plank – an abdominal/core strength exercise involving maintaining a position similar to a push-up for the maximum possible time – for three minutes.
Balancing grief with getting through daily life, she refuses to acknowledge her own resolve and courage to move forward.
“It really doesn't feel like courage, that feels like the wrong word," she said. "To me, I think of courage as when you have the choice between danger and safety to help someone, and you choose danger. I don't have a choice."
She will get up again tomorrow because, "not getting out of bed in the morning doesn't seem to be an alternative that I can accept. As much as I can use eight hours of sleep in a row, I just… don't know how else to respond to something like this except to beat it at its own game. I am going to beat this tragedy at its own game."