During the final season of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Oprah and her team took the show — and one very lucky studio audience — to Australia for the adventure of a lifetime. There was an unprecedented look inside sacred caves, an encounter with some frisky koalas, Hugh Jackman on a zip line… and one particularly unforgettable Aussie couple.
Kristian and Rachel Anderson were college sweethearts living in a suburb of Sydney with their two young boys, Cody and Jakob. Not long before “The Oprah Show” arrived in Australia, Kristian had been diagnosed with liver and bowel cancer, and was literally in the fight of his life. Touched by the couple’s story (which gained attention after Kristian posted a loving video tribute to his wife on YouTube), Oprah had them join her for an episode at the Sydney Opera House and gave them a special surprise.
“We wanted them to spend every ounce of their energy being together and focused on getting well,” Oprah told the Opera House audience, before turning toward the couple. “You shouldn’t worry about the bills… because you will be getting a check for a quarter of a million dollars.”
Sadly, a year after that show, Kristian lost his battle with cancer at age 36. Now, almost three years after his death, Rachel tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” how she and their sons have been coping.
“Since we were on ‘The Oprah Show,’ life is… it’s pretty much turned upside down for us,” Rachel says. “In sad ways and good ways.”
With the $ 250,000 gift, the Andersons felt a great sense of relief and gratitude to be able to spend some incredible quality time together. “We booked a Disney cruise, and went to Disney World and Disney Land,” Rachel says, smiling. “[We] had the most magical time as a family.”
The Andersons made the most of their time together, and after Kristian passed, Rachel was devastated. “It was like living in a black hole,” she says quietly. “I remember waking up the first morning after he died. I remember lying there and seeing his wardrobe open and his clothes all there. Just realizing that was it. That was all that we had left. He was gone.”
In the midst of her grief, Rachel focused on her children, though she often struggled when either of her boys reached a childhood milestone. “About two weeks after [Kristian] died, Cody lost his first tooth and I just remember being devastated that Kristian had missed that,” she says. “It was horrible.”
Because Cody and Jakob were young when their father died, Rachel has remained fiercely dedicated to keeping Kristian’s memory alive. “I work very hard to make sure that he’s part of our day, still,” she says.
It’s something Kristian gave thought to as well. Just after he was diagnosed, Kristian started a blog that is now filled with reflections, stories, triumphs and fears. “It was one of his dying wishes that we would get his blog published so that we had something tangible for the children to have growing up,” Rachel says, holding up a book. “I now have this that the boys can sit down and read, and they can find out exactly how Daddy felt at every, single point in his journey.”
As for Rachel, the mother of two has begun a new chapter in her own journey. During an appearance she made on New Zealand television discussing the book, a man named Richard saw her and reached out. The two began communicating and, eventually, dating.
“He turned out to be the most incredible man,” Rachel says. “In January of this year, we got married. He has a daughter that’s in between the ages of my children, so between us, we have a 5-year-old, a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old.”
Cody and Jakob enjoy their stepdad. “The boys think the world of Richard. He’s a big kid, really,” Rachel says. “He’s just fantastic.”
As the children continue to grow and change each day, Rachel believes Kristian is proud and happy to see their lives continue with love and joy. “I honestly do think that Kristian is watching over us,” she says. “I honestly do think he gets these windows into our lives and gets to see what’s happening. [He’s] taking care of us.”
“Oprah: Where Are They Now?” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.
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