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Tuesday 12 June 2012

Kristian and Rachel Anderson, Oprah, and 'Days Like These'

The story of Kristian and Rachel Anderson is as moving as it is heartbreaking.

Given the global exposure the couple received after Kristian posted a birthday video on YouTube for his wife's birthday [with a little help from Hugh Jackman], and the subsequent gesture of generosity from Oprah, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to speak with Rachel just a few months after her beloved husband Kristian died.

Promoting Kristian's book 'Days Like These', Rachel's sorrow was still raw, though her was positive outlook was utterly inspiring.

When Kristian wanted to show his wife, Rachel, how much he loved her, he captured another million hearts worldwide with the now-famous YouTube birthday video he made. Here it is:

Sadly, Kristian died in his sleep on January 2, 2012 - he was only 36.

But it was a life in which he touched countless others’ lives. Although many of us didn’t know Kristian personally, we were so inspired by him that we felt like we did.

Told in his own words the book 'Days Like These' is drawn from Kristian’s blog about his journey - his inspiring blog can be found here: http://howthelightgetsin.net.

The book features added insights from Rachel, and it's a legacy he dreamed of leaving behind for her and their sons, Cody, 5, and Jakob, 3.

For every book sold, HarperCollins is making a donation to Bear Cottage, a hospice for children with life-limiting illnesses and their families.

More video clips below, but first, my chat with Rachel.

Josie: Have you read the book since it has come out?

Rachel: No, I haven’t re-read it since it has been published… it’s still too hard. It’s way too emotional. Of course, I read the manuscripts before it was published, but beyond that... no. It's still so surreal.

J: What was your reaction when you first saw the YouTube video he made for you?

R: Oh, he had kept it so hidden from me. I did not suspect a thing! Nobody knew, except a few people who were sworn to secrecy. So, to have him sit me down and watch it was just... incredible. What didn't surprise me at all was the quality of the video – he was always such a perfectionist. The whole thing was just... the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

J: Anyone watching it for the first time, even not knowing much about your story, would be so moved by the strength and love in your relationship. To have someone love you like that is extraordinary...

R: Yes... but it wasn’t easy. You know, cancer changes people. And it changes them for the better, but he was very hard to live with at times, and it was very difficult. He was very ill, all the time - it was 'man flu', times 1000. It’s not an easy time for a couple and I can see why for some it's too hard, but for me that was never an option. You know, you’re in this together and that's what marriage is all about. You say 'til death do us part, and that's because you mean it. For me, that’s the whole point of marriage – it’s not always going to be easy, and you’re never going to be happy all the time. And if you walk away when things get too hard you'll live with regret. I am very glad we had enough glue to keep us together the whole time because you know... it was a short time together in the end.

J: How long were you together?

R: From starting to date, to getting married was less than a year, and then we were married for just over eight and a half years.

J: When did Kristian start blogging about his experiences?

R: The day after he was diagnosed. We had so many people wanting to know how he was doing so he decided he would start blogging to let people know. He’s always been a journal writer and he writes well and is creative, so it came naturally to him, to put his thoughts down on paper. Originally, it was just to let people know what was going on rather than repeating ourselves many times, so people could have a read and see where we were at. About halfway through, people said to us, 'you should have this published.' About two weeks after Kristian died, we got an email saying that HarperCollins were interested.

J: How did Kristian feel knowing that his innermost thoughts and his journey were possibly going to be published?

R: He was happy knowing that; he got a thrill when he'd see how many people were reading his blog. On the day we were on 'Oprah', we had over 50,000 visitors view the blog. He was chuffed with that.

J: How did the whole birthday message video idea come about?

R: Gus Worland is part of the 'Grill Team' on the Triple M morning radio show, and Kristian and Gus went to high school together. Kristian sent Gus an email with this idea for the video. Gus and Hugh Jackman are friends, and three days later, Kristian had a reply from Hugh Jackman in his inbox.

J: And how did your appearance on 'Oprah' come about?

R: Kristian had a phone call out of the blue from Amanda, a producer who worked with us, and she told us the 'Oprah' show were doing a segment on YouTube sensations and they'd come across our video and thought it would make quite a cool story. But we of course, found out later it was the story they told us to keep us in the dark about what they were actually planning. What actually happened was that the band Train – whose song ‘Marry Me’ was used in the clip he made for me - well, somebody who worked for their record label was in touch with one of the producers from 'Oprah', and that’s how it came to be. So we were tracked down, and we didn’t even know what was happening. In fact, we didn’t even know until half an hour before that we were actually going to meet Oprah. We had no idea; it was a very surreal day, and it was so much fun.

J: How did that Oprah's donation impact on your lives?

R: Well, even though Oprah said, "Now Rachel doesn't have to work", I actually found my job [as a teacher] to be a saving grace, and I still do. You just can’t have an off day when you’re teaching, so I continued to work. But what it [the donation] meant was that Kristian didn’t have to worry about money. Because I think as a male, it’s in their DNA that they feel they have to be a provider. So, he was feeling enormous pressure even though he was so sick, and this took the pressure off him, and it allowed us to take a holiday and pay off debts and medical bills. It was such an incredible blessing for our little family.

J: What's a typical day for you now?

R: It’s a blur; I feel like it’s so busy, and as a working mum, you never feel like you’re doing anything well. But I am so grateful that as a teacher I get school holidays so I get to spend time with my children.

J: Your relationship with your faith is a very strong one. It seems this is what has kept you afloat...

R: We both come from Christian families – I'm from New Zealand and Kristian's from Perth - and we both ended in Sydney because of our church, the C3 Church. Our church family and our faith in God has been what has pulled us through, more than anything. It has been such a scary time and we haven’t had close family here to support us and so we’ve had to rely on our friends to get us through. It has been crazy but I don’t know how people can travel a journey like this and not have something solid to help pull you through. You know, you feel like everything is slipping away from you and you’ve got nothing solid to stand on. The Bible talks about pulling you out of the clay and putting you up on a rock, and that’s kind of how it has been for us. He's given us something solid to hang on to, to focus on.

J: How do you explain Kristian’s passing to your sons, and do they ask questions?

R: Yes, they do. When he died - I think it’s a New Zealand thing - we brought Kristian’s body home, and that I think was a really good thing for the boys. He was in hospital for two weeks before he died and I’d take them up most days, but once he was unconscious I didn’t take them. The morning he died, I got home and they were happily playing, and then I had to say to them, “Daddy has gone to be with Jesus and the angels in heaven", and the first thing Cody said was, “Oh, does that mean we don’t have a Daddy anymore?” And I said to him, “No, he’s in heaven, and he has Poppy and Pa…” I didn’t want them feel like he just 'walked out.' But then for the rest of that week, because we were on the news and they showed footage of Kristian earlier in the year, they asked, “Why isn’t Daddy dead? Why is he still talking?" And so by bringing the body home it was helpful because they saw him dead, and it didn’t freak them out at all. We just had his coffin in the lounge area so he was there when we were eating and playing games, and it was really good. For them, things are very black and white; they know where Daddy is... he’s not here now. But occasionally they’ll ask what I think heaven is like and what he might be doing, and we talk about it all the time. I'm so grateful I have the book to show them later on.

J: What do you most want readers to get from this book? Whether they have or haven’t been through cancer, whether they are religious or not…?

R: I would just love them to see the hope; even in the depths of despair, we still had hope. Ideally, I’d love everyone to come into a relationship with God through the book; you know, I’d love it be a tool that brings people to a place of comfort in the arms of God, that’s what I would love. And, just for people to realise that although life is not easy, there is something bigger than what’s going on here on earth; grasp hold of that, take hope from that. I just really want it to be a book of hope."

And with that, Rachel and I exchange our goodbyes. After a few cute interruptions from her boys along the way, she is off to face the day... and the rest of her life without Kristian.

Part of the last blog post from Kristian explains the title of his blog 'How The Light Gets In'. Here's what he said:

"There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in. The truth is we’re all broken, we’re all cracked and what so many people see as a fault or a malfunction really is something to be considered useful."

'Days Like These' is available now at all bookstores.

Here is Oprah segment, when she announced to the couple at one of her Sydney shows that she was donating $250,000:

And here is the couple on Sunrise, being surprised by a performance by Train:

And sadly, here is the Ten News report on Kristian's funeral:

1 comment:

  1. Incredibly moving... thank you, Josie.