FAIRFIELD — There was a week in Mandy West’s life that was meant for celebration only, but instead, also was filled with the painful sting of death.
On Aug. 10, 2010, Mandy’s husband Mark West was working as a barber at Tony Biondo & Son Barber Shop on Pleasant Avenue, where he had worked for 12 years. That night, his boss and best friend, Angelo Biondo, told him to go home for the day.
Business was slow, and it was Mark’s 34th birthday.
But Mark decided not to go home. His wife, Mandy, was pregnant and was due to give birth the next week. He knew he’d be taking off a week or so of work to welcome the latest addition to his expanding family, and wanted to work while he could.
So the day continued as normal. Mark joked around with his boss and friend, cut hair of the regular customers and worked out at the YMCA, just as he did four times a week.
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He called Mandy to tell her he would be staying at work for the rest of the day.
“I was making his cake, and I said I had to go,” she said.
That was the last time she would ever talk to her husband.
Later that afternoon, Mandy was called by Angelo to go to Mercy Hospital of Fairfield. The pregnant mother of two, Austin, 8, and Adam, 2, arrived to find that her husband had died while at work.
Mark’s death was caused by a cardiac arrhythmia, a fluttering irregularity due to scarring in the left ventricle of his heart.
“When the coroner called, he said just a large part of his heart died.”
The next week — a week the family had been looking forward to for nine months — didn’t bring the tears of joy as planned.
“I have to plan a funeral, and I’m due to have a baby,” Mandy said she thought to herself.
Mandy’s family was concerned the stress was causing problems with her pregnancy, so she called her obstetrician.
“I went in Thursday night to be induced so we could have the funeral Monday,” she said.
A healthy Evan Mark West was born Friday, Aug. 13.
Even with a newborn baby, Mandy couldn’t escape the reality. Her husband, best friend and father to her children was gone.
“I left the hospital and went directly to shop for a grave. It was a horrid thing I had to do,” she said.
Mandy held her 3-day-old newborn at the funeral for the father he would never have the chance to meet.
“He never met his daddy, but he went to his funeral,” she said.
While his life was short, it was full, Mandy said. Full of a job he loved, clients that considered him a friend and a family who he loved more than anything.
About 600 people attended his funeral, she said.
“I knew he was great, but I didn’t know everyone else did, too,” Mandy said.
Adam, 2, stayed with a neighbor in a play area of the church during the funeral. Mandy said she couldn’t have him look at his daddy in a casket. He doesn’t understand he’s gone, although he knows something has changed. When Angelo came to cut their grass, using the same type of lawn-mower Mark had once used, he ran outside expecting to see his dad.
Mandy said she encourages Austin, 8, to “let it out.”
In the future, if memories of their father start to fade, Mandy wants her children to know that they were at the center of their father’s world.
“I want to make sure they know how much they meant to him,” she said. “He loved being a dad.”
Angelo said Mark was focused on “being the best dad he could be.”
He used to wrestle on the living room floor, which I hated,” Mandy said with a laugh. “He had endless energy to play with them.”
A sports enthusiast and a Bengals fan, Mark could rattle off any sports statistic. His barber license still sits above the mirror at his station, and no one could know that a place Mark once spent his days and who’s boss became a friend, would be the place of his untimely passing.
A memorial fund has been established at US Bank, and a golf outing in the summer is scheduled to raise funds for the childrens' college savings, that Mark put money into every month.
Almost five months after his death, Mandy said as soon as she starts to “get a grip” her mind lets in a little more of the gravity of the situation, when she has to remind herself “he’s really gone.”
“Three days before he died, we celebrated his birthday. I told (his mother) that my life was everything I wanted it to be. We were best friends. This is not what is was supposed to be. I was 27 and a widow.”