Jeremiah Brent Praises Nate Berkus' 'Strength' for Wading in the Ocean 17 Years After Tsunami

Nate Berkus survived the devastating 2004 tsunami in Asia, but lost his longtime partner Fernando Bengoechea

Nate Berkus, Jeremiah Brent
Nate Berkus, Jeremiah Brent and kids Poppy and Oskar. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage

Nate Berkus is overcoming his fear of the ocean, 17 years after surviving the tsunami that devastated the Indian Ocean costal communities and claimed more than 227,800 lives in 2004.

Jeremiah Brent celebrated his husband's "strength" on Instagram, Thursday, sharing in a touching post that after years of having a difficult time feeling comfortable in the water, he is now able to play with their kids in the sea with "laughter" and "joy."

"One of the most profound and unrecognized parts of Nate's spirit is his strength," Brent, 36, wrote. "I watched my husband, who survived such tragedy and such loss in 2004, walk our children into the ocean earlier this week."

"He has broken the chain of fear and wades in the water, full of laughter and full of joy," he continued. "There is no one like him."

Brent shared a black-and-white photo taken from the shore of Berkus, 49, lifting their daughter Poppy, 6, above the waves.

Berkus lost his longtime love, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, in the tsunami while they were vacationing in Sri Lanka. The couple were swept out of their beachfront hut when the massive wave hit, and were eventually separated by the rushing water. After the tsunami, Bengoechea was reported missing. He was never found, and was assumed dead.

Brent added in his caption that Thursday would have been Bengoechea's birthday.

"Our family will always keep his art and story alive, even as we move forward. Always," Brent wrote.

RELATED VIDEO: Nate Berkus Reflects on How Death of Late Partner in Tsunami Almost Held Him Back from Buying New Home

In addition to Poppy, Brent and Berkus are parents to 3-year-old son Oskar, whose name is a tribute to the late photographer.

"[Fernando's] middle name was Oskar," Berkus told PEOPLE in April 2018, explaining that the tribute "was actually Jeremiah's idea."

"We have always honored Fernando's memory in our relationship. He's a part of our love story," Brent added at the time. "It's such an important chapter in Nate's life. So the idea that we can honor his memory in a beautiful way was exciting to us."

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In October 2020, Brent told PEOPLE that living by the ocean in Montauk — where the family moved during the COVID-19 pandemic — was helping Berkus to trust "the water again to some extent."

"Not fully. I don't think he ever will. But it's really become this sanctuary for us and there's just a really beautiful full-circle moment that we received — through COVID, unfortunately — but through this house and through this town," Brent said. "It's been a really beautiful journey."

On Thursday, Berkus shared a moving tribute on Instagram in honor of Bengoechea.

"You will never be forgotten," he wrote alongside a throwback photo of his former partner.

"To commemorate Fernando's birthday, @fernando_bengoechea_photo is donating 10% of proceeds to the Joshua Tree National Park via @jtnpa, the park's primary non-profit supporter," he shared. "Fernando's brother Marcelo is on a mission to keep Fernando's art alive. He uses the same technique and museum-quality materials as Fernando did. Each woven photograph is made to order and it is a unique piece of art. Not two are alike… just beautiful.⁣"

Fernando Bangoechea's woven photographs are available on

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