It was a blustery January day in 2018 when Lew Berry got down on one knee in the parking lot of the bowling alley in Fishers, Indiana, where he and Brianna Berry had gone on their first date a year and a half earlier.
Brianna didn’t believe it was really happening at first. Since they’d moved in together a few months prior, Lew had had some fun building up to the big moment, getting down on one knee a few times just as a prank. What Brianna didn’t know was he’d already bought a ring and was just waiting for the perfect moment. And there, outside the bowling alley where they’d begun their love story, that moment finally came.
“He said ... that first handshake changed his life, and he never knew he could be this happy,” Brianna, 31, told BuzzFeed News. “And he asked me to marry him.”
Brianna and Lew met for the first time in August 2016 at that very same bowling alley. They’d first connected on the dating site Plenty of Fish, months before Brianna was planning to relocate south from northern Indiana, and went on their first date after she’d moved there.
“We went bowling because he didn’t want to go to a movie, because he wanted to talk to me, and dinner was too formal,” she said. “It was just instant chemistry, instant connection. He was very easy to talk to and so funny - he could just make anyone laugh.”
She added, “At the end of that date, he asked if he could kiss me. He was just a gentleman in every way. We both described it later as the best kiss we’ve ever had.”
Their relationship sped forward after that. They cooked for each other and went on a date to the zoo and started spending more time together than they did apart. Eventually, they got a French bulldog named Rocco and bought a house together. And in November 2018, they married.
“That still is the best day of my life, and it was his too,” she said. “You just look at our wedding pictures and you can just tell how much we love each other.”
But Brianna can’t bear to look at the pictures now. Not since April 6, when Lew died of the coronavirus at age 37.
Brianna has been left struggling to come to terms with the death of the man she was married to for less than two years, and she’s at a loss to understand how a virus that leaves many unscathed could kill the love of her life.
“It’s still hard to believe sometimes - because it’s not like he was an old man,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense why some people die and some don’t.”
“Why am I still here and he’s dead?” she asked. “Why am I a 31-year-old widow?”
When the pandemic hit, Brianna said she and Lew took every precaution not to get sick, particularly since they both had asthma. They socially distanced. They washed their hands. They wiped down all the surfaces in their home.
But still, over the last weekend of March, Lew developed a cough, shortness of breath, and a fever. The following Tuesday, March 31, his symptoms had become so severe the pair went to a hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
“[The doctors] told me he was going to be on a vent, so we FaceTimed,” she said. “He told me everything was going to be okay, he was going to fight, and that I was the best thing to ever happen to him, and the years with me were the happiest of his life.
“He told me to be strong, and I told him I loved him and I can’t lose him. And we stayed on FaceTime together until they were going to put the vent in.”
Even while her husband was being intubated, Brianna still didn’t imagine that would be the last time they spoke.
“Never in a million years did I think he wasn’t going to make it,” she said.
Then came the waiting. Brianna waited as the doctors treated Lew, which she described as an emotional roller coaster — hope, then despair. One day, his fever went down, and she thought he was out of the woods. But then it climbed back up again.
On April 5, the doctors told Brianna her husband was going to die. Due to the hospital’s regulations meant to prevent the spread of the virus, she wasn’t allowed to come in and be with him.
“Every night in the hospital, I would have them put me on speakerphone, and I’d sing to him and talk to him and tell him how much I loved him,” she said.
Around 1:30 a.m. on April 6 came the call she’d been dreading.
“I was alone because I was under quarantine,” she said of the moment. “I just remember falling on the floor and screaming.”
Lew was a project manager for a family-owned construction company, which he started working for when he was just 15. The company’s owner, Todd Lewis, 55, told BuzzFeed News he had been in need of some strong workers, and when he ran into the young Lew and some friends on the street, he offered them jobs. Lew started working for the company and never stopped.
Lew turned out to be a skilled worker and grew close to Lewis and his family over the years. In recent years, the two men coached a youth football team together.
“We treated him as one our own, and he became one of our own,” Lewis said.
Months into Lew and Brianna’s relationship, he invited her to Lewis’s Thanksgiving dinner. Lewis laughed, remembering that Lew had been so excited to finally introduce his girlfriend to him that he'd showed up an hour early.
“Something was missing for Lew, and he found Bri, and that filled that hole for him,” Lewis said. “He became a lot happier. She made him very, very happy.”
Despite being the one to deliver Lew’s eulogy at a funeral attended by just six people, Lewis is still in shock. He hasn’t yet been able to grieve the death of his longtime friend.
“Lew had been such a big mountain of a guy that I just never thought anything like that would take him down,” Lewis said.
As part of the eulogy, Lewis read out a list of memories that Brianna had written about her relationship with Lew.
“I had been journaling my memories because I’m afraid I’ll forget them,” Brianna said, “because I feel like we didn’t get enough of them, so I don’t want to forget the ones that we did get.”
Because of social distancing guidelines and fears that she may be carrying the virus, Brianna has been mostly alone as she processes her grief. Her mother is staying with her, and she has videochatted with people, but Brianna said she feels so alone and does not know what her life will look like from here.
“I feel like I’ve been robbed of my life with him,” she said. “It’s like, why is it that other people just find their person and be happy, but mine is taken from me so soon? We never even really got to decide if we were going to have children or not.”
Coupled with her grief, Brianna said she’s overcome with anger and frustration for those she sees as not taking the virus seriously enough, like people not properly social distancing and officials rushing to reopen businesses.
“Don’t think that just because you’re young and healthy that you’re not going to get it,” she said. “It’s not just the elderly, and people need to take this seriously — it's not a joke.
“It is so much worse than I think we were led to believe. Experiencing it firsthand, it is an awful way to die.”
“This last is important. Even in corporate environments, it is very difficult to remove an underling for incompetence if that underling has seniority and a long history of good performance reviews. As in government bureaucracies, the easiest way to deal with such people is often to “kick them upstairs”: promote them to a higher post, where they become somebody else’s problem.”