Nate Berkus is happy to have found not one, but two “great loves.”
In PEOPLE’s Love Issue, the interior designer Nate Berkus, 50, and his husband Jeremiah Brent, 37, talked about their 10-year relationship. Berkus also talked honestly about how his relationship with his late partner, Argentinian photographer Fernando Bengoechea, who died in the 2004 Sri Lankan tsunami, has affected his marriage to Brent.
Berkus says this about what his husband has taught him about love: “The biggest lesson for me is that no matter what I’ve been through—and I’ve been very public about what I’ve survived—I will believe, because [Jeremiah] taught me to believe, that if you do the work on yourself that’s needed to make yourself available to great love, then it’s possible that great love can come around again.”
Before meeting Berkus at age 26, Brent had never been in a serious relationship. Their instant connection on their first date in 2012 was a pleasant surprise. “I can remember thinking, “Oh God, what is this?” Not what I thought it would be, “says Brent. “There was something about him that made me feel so safe when I was with him.”
It was a surprise fresh start for Berkus.
“When Jeremiah and I met, my mother told me, ‘The light is back in your eyes,'” Berkus remembers. “And I remember thinking, I get it. You are correct. I know.”
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The former Oprah guest has talked a lot about how Bengoechea is a part of his and Brent’s story. He and Brent even named their 3-year-old son Oskar after him as a tribute. (They also share a 6-year-old daughter, Poppy.)
In April 2018, Berkus told PEOPLE that the touching idea came from the fact that Fernando’s middle name was Oskar. Even more surprising is that the tribute “was actually Jeremiah’s idea.”
“We have always remembered Fernando when we were together. He’s a part of how we fell in love “explains Brent. “It’s a very important part of Nate’s story. So it was exciting to think that we could remember him in a beautiful way.”
In 2005, Oprah asked Berkus to tell her about the tsunami.
He and Bengoechea were on vacation in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, when the natural disaster happened. The force of the wave swept them out of their beachfront hut. Even though the water was moving quickly, they were able to stay together. Bengoechea was reported missing after the waves stopped, but he was never found.
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Soon after, his family put out a statement saying, “Even with all the information we have and the hard work of the search team, we still haven’t heard anything about Fernando. So, we have to think that Fernando died in the tsunami, which makes us very sad.”