Fourteen years ago, Rusty Yates' life was forever changed with one phone call. That summer morning, he headed to work just like any other day, only to receive horrific news from his wife Andrea: Once Rusty had left, she drowned each of their five young children one-by-one in the family bathtub. The oldest, Luke, was 7; the youngest, Mary, was just 6 months.
As the tragedy left the nation reeling, Andrea was committed to a mental hospital, where she has remained for more than eight years. Rusty struggled to cope with the loss of his children and, effectively, his wife, but has managed to find a way to move forward in the years since. As he tells "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" in the above video, his life today is actually one of happiness.
"I'm doing pretty good," Rusty says. "I've remarried, and my wife and I have a little boy... who's 7."
That little boy is the same age as Rusty's oldest was, a fact that the father sometimes finds difficult to separate from the past. "There are times where he does something that reminds me of one of my first five children," Rusty says.
Those memories can be comforting, but sometimes, Rusty explains that they can be overshadowed by the pain of their deaths. When this happens, Rusty tries to reset his thinking to avoid spiraling into an endless cycle of despair and grief.
"When you're first grieving and you see something that reminds you... of that loss, it's real easy to get caught up in how they suffered or the fact that they're gone," he tells Oprah. "What I tried to do was say, 'Look, I'm not going to let these events steal that joy, the joy that we had for those seven years.' [I] replace that [negative] memory with something more positive."
Rusty's way of coping reminds Oprah of poignant advice that her friend Dr. Phil had once shared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" years ago. "[He was] talking to a woman who for 10 years was grieving the loss of her daughter, going into the room and holding onto the clothes and all that," she recalls. "He said to her, 'Why do you let the day of her death define her entire life when there was an entire life you could think about?'"
Thinking like this is exactly what helps Rusty. "They had happy lives here on this earth," he says of his first five children. "They moved from this realm to the next, but their lives can't be defined by that one moment."
Even how Rusty envisions his children in his own mind is an example of how their lives will endure. "For some reason, when I think about them today, I think of them as being teenagers or young adults," he says.
His overall perspective on loss, life and love is one that Oprah finds admirable.
"You are a living, breathing example of being able to move forward when the most horrific thing occurs," she says.
Rusty is also a living example of forgiveness: He says he is "hopeful" that his ex-wife will someday be a free woman.
"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
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