SALT LAKE CITY — Val Patterson lost his ability to speak after throat surgery in February.
But that didn't stop him from telling it like it is.
"If you knew me, remember me in your own way. If you want to live forever, then don't stop breathing, like I did," Val Patterson, who died from throat cancer July 10, wrote in his own obituary, which was published Monday.
In his last words, the 59-year-old dished on his accomplishments, he told about his regrets. He even confessed to a 1971 crime — stealing the safe from the Motor View Drive-In — that he kept secret ever since.
"I enjoyed one good life," he wrote. "Traveled to every place on earth that I ever wanted to go. Had every job that I wanted to have. Learned all that I wanted to learn. Fixed everything I wanted to fix. Eaten everything I wanted to eat."
According to his wife, Mary Jane Patterson, "he wasn't lying. It all really happened."
"To him, traditional was boring and you can tell by his lifestyle, he's not that traditional type of guy," she said Monday. "He thought it would be cool to write his own."
His idea seemed to be inspiring dozens of people, who left comments online after reading the obituary of a man they had never met.
"He must have been one unique interesting guy," wrote Dale Lund, a sociology professor at California State University. He remarked that the obituary made a "huge impact" on him and that he would use it with students "to stimulate discussions about how we live our lives and the legacies we leave behind."
Val Patterson had multiple jobs over the years, dabbling in everything, just as he had wanted it. The safe was stolen as part of a prank and he did it using the sheriff's trailer, which he had been entrusted to repair.
The handyman also said he had received a degree he didn't really do the work for, as the University of Utah had mistakenly sent out a doctorate certificate. The couple always laughed when they'd get correspondence from the university regarding it.
They had set up a mail order business in 1991, after he expressed a desire to work at home. Mary Jane plans to continue it in his absence and has felt "well-prepared" to deal with the loss of someone she fondly remembers as "the love of my life."
"We did have the most magical marriage ever," she said. "We used to say, 'if there was a competition for who had the best marriage, we'd enter it and we'd win.' We were so close and we'd talk about everything and anything. We'd share everything."
The two knew he wouldn't live long after an aggressive cancer diagnosis was made late last year. Val Patterson began smoking at about age 21, quit once in the 80s, but began again and didn't stop.
"My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me," Val Patterson wrote, adding that he endured "enormous" pain not only from the cancer, but from having to leave his "beloved Mary Jane" earlier than he wanted to.
Every moment spent with her, he wrote, "was time spent wisely."
She was 17 and he was 26 when they married and they never had any children. The only fight they ever had was early in their marriage and it was regarding the correct method of making Jell-O.
"He always took really good care of me," Mary Jane Patterson said. "He was the best. He was just incredible really."
Through the last five months, Val Patterson communicated only through writing.
"One day, he wrote to me and said, 'the cancer is too strong. I want to die,'" Mary Jane recalled. She spent every hour of every day by his side. About five days later, he died.
"I was holding both his hands and my ear was to his chest when he died," she said. "It was actually a really beautiful experience. It just felt perfect. It was like it was meant to be."
Val Patterson didn't want a funeral or burial service, and he penned his own cremation speech. He asked his wife to read it in front of a selected group of close friends and family and then, he requested that she push the button to start the cremation process.
"He arranged everything," she said. "He was the most organized person you'd ever meet."
Mary Jane Patterson hasn't had much time to process anything in the week her husband has been gone, but she said his death wasn't a huge shock, due to their shared pragmatism and the time they had to emotionally process what was happening.
"Anybody who knew him would say he was one of a kind for sure," she said. "There's only one Val, they'd say."