A Life: Nick Berry, 1989-2016; He Died on His Wedding Day With Love in His Heart

By John Lippman

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-06-2016 3:34 PM

Post Mills — On the afternoon of May 8, Megan Naylor and Nicholas Berry exchanged wedding vows in the living room of their trailer home in Post Mills.

That evening, the guests gone and the newlyweds alone, Berry died.

They were married six hours.

“Nick waited until everyone went home so it would be only me with him. I think that’s what he wanted,” his wife, Megan Berry, said.

He was 27 years old.

Nick Berry, who grew up in Vershire and worked as a kitchen manager and handyman at Seven Barrel brew pub and restaurant in West Lebanon, had been diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form of blood cell cancer, seven months earlier.

During his illness he developed secondary HLH, a complication from lymphoma that attacks the immune system and is nearly always fatal.

In the eight years they were together the young couple built a life for themselves in the Upper Valley, close to family and friends, even though work could be sporadic and money was always tight.

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Severely dyslexic and unhappy in school, Nick dropped out of Connecticut River Academy, an alternative school for students with learning disabilities, in the 11th grade and went right to work.

Although “Nicholas had a lot of trouble reading and writing, he was an extremely smart young man. If you put it in front of him, he could learn whatever he watched. He was a hands-on kind of guy,” said his mother, Tina Race. “He was a wonderful boy and I was a very, very lucky mother.”

Nick’s older sister, Melissa Berry, of West Tophsam, said she, Nick and their brother, Matthew, spent much of their childhood exploring the woods around Vershire, climbing trees and finding cave hide-aways. He liked to dig up worms and hold them in his fingers while chasing her around the yard.

“He was the little guinea pig of our group, the one we were always trying to talk into doing the most dangerous things,” Melissa said.

She remembers her younger brother having unusual strength and the ability to mask physical pain.

Once Melissa Berry and her cousin were jumping on the trampoline and Nick lifted it up so they would have more bounce. The kids came down hard and the force of landing caused the metal frame to slam against his arm.

“He complained about pain, but it was only at night,” Melissa said. “During the day he was running around outside, climbing trees, like nothing was wrong.”

Finally their mother grew worried and took Nick to the doctor. He had broken his arm.

Nick loved to give presents, Melissa said. She remembers him once giving her a six-foot iron fish hook — “who knows where he found it” — and the joy in his face, “how excited he was to give other people meaningful things.”

Nick’s difficulty in reading, in fact, is what motivated Melissa to become a preschool teacher with a focus on children’s pre-literacy skills, she said.

“I watched how hard Nick struggled and it broke my heart. He was so clever with machinery and his hands. He could find a solution for anything, but it was painful for him to read,” Melissa Berry said.

Within the family, Nick was given the nickname “Pickle,” because, Megan Berry said, “he was always in a pickle.” When he got older Nick had the word “Pickle” tattooed on the back of his neck.

At various times Berry was employed at furniture maker Pompanoosuc Mills in East Thetford, the Hungry Bear Pub and Grill in Bradford, Sharon Beef in Sharon, MJL Roofing & Siding in Fairlee, Circle K in Hanover and finally Seven Barrel in West Lebanon where his just-get-the-job done attitude won praise and promotion from managers.

“Nick did a little bit of everything,” said Mel Candon, front of house manager at Seven Barrel, ticking off the list of tasks that Berry would hustle through during the day.

“He’d open in the morning for the delivery trucks, set the kitchen up, cook the wings, prep the fries, make the shepherd’s pies, break the steaks down — he worked at a butcher — grind our beef, work the kitchen line,” she said. “He also took down and rebuilt the shelves in the back and retiled the hallway.”

“He was always” — Candon paused for emphasis — “that guy. If you needed something, needed help, he’d do it.”

Megan Naylor knew pretty quickly, too, that Nick Berry was that guy for her.

Megan lived in the Upper Valley until she was 12, when she moved to Florida and then Georgia with her mother. She came back in December 2008, to visit her dad. Megan was at a party at her cousin’s on New Year’s Eve when she struck up a conversation with a handsome young man.

“I remember one of the first things he said to me was, ‘You’re a good person no matter what anybody else says.’ ... He had a very attractive personality,” Megan recalls of their first meeting.

The clincher came a week later when they were driving to a friend’s house. There had been a big snowfall earlier. Nick parked his truck in the driveway and Megan moved to open her side door, “but I was wearing a new pair of shoes and the snow was up to my knees,” she recalled.

Megan remembers saying something to the effect of “I’m not getting into that stuff in these shoes.”

Nick popped out of his side of the car door.

“He walked around the front of his truck, opened my door, and carried me into the house,” Megan said.

It was freezing that night but the gallant gesture melted Megan’s heart.

“That was it. Yup,” she said.

Megan never returned to Georgia.

She didn’t tell her mother the reason right away, however.

“She had return tickets,” Melissa Champney, Megan’s mother, remembers. “She kept making excuses as to why she wasn’t coming home. At first it was, ‘I missed the plane.’ Then it was something else. Then I asked, ‘Megan, what’s going on?’ Finally we got to, ‘Well, there’s this boy, Nick...’ ”

A couple years later, Megan’s mother moved back to the Upper Valley, but until she met Nick he was known within the family simply “that boy,” the one who won Megan’s heart.

Nick and Megan moved into a mobile home in Post Mills on Route 113 owned by a friend of Nick’s mom. “We partied a lot, we drove around a lot, but we stopped that and settled down,” Megan said.

One day he ran into Josh Butler, of Bradford, a friend from his high school days at Connecticut River Academy. The two used to hang out together but had lost touch.

“I’d gotten into some trouble,” Josh explained.

Butler was recently out of jail, his license was suspended, and he didn’t have a job.

“I was struggling,” Butler said.

Nick was quick to offer Butler a helping hand. He said Butler could stay with him and Megan in their second bedroom until his friend could get back on his feet.

“He let me move in with them. I didn’t have any money. I could ride in with them to Lebanon to look for a job,” Butler said. Nick and Megan rode into West Lebanon together each day because his shift at Seven Barrel roughly overlapped with Megan’s job at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“I lived with them for six months before I got a job,” Butler said, and when he was able to get the odd piece of work before then, Nick wouldn’t take money for rent.

“He said use it to get your cigarettes and stuff,” Butler said.

Butler got work at Dunkin’ Donuts, then McDonald’s, and now at Five Guys in the Upper Valley Plaza.

Nick’s illness came out of nowhere.

In the early fall of 2015, Nick began to feel run down, but he didn’t pay it much attention.

“It was about two to three months and he just thought he had a cold or the flu or something, but it never got better,” Megan said. “They ran a bunch of tests. At first they thought it was pneumonia.”

On Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, they learned the news that the latest test results revealed that Nick had lymphoma, and it was already advanced.

Despite his rapidly deteriorating condition — he lost 60 pounds within the span of a few months — Berry was adamant about living as normal a life as possible, his wife said.

“He had three different types of chemo, everything failed,” Megan said. “It would just grow back, sometimes stronger.”

Like the boy who hid the pain from his broken arm, Nick didn’t like to let other people know how sick he really was feeling, family members said.

The night before Nick died he and Megan went to her mother and step-dad’s home in Grafton for dinner of stuffed shells and mozzarella sauce.

“You could tell he felt terrible, but he sat up and ate,” Megan’s mother, Melissa Champney, said. “If you looked at him, you wouldn’t have known he was that sick. He wanted to make it as easy as possible for Megan and his mom. He was so brave.”

Nick cracked jokes to deflect worry, his sister Melissa said.

“As it got closer to the end, a lot of times he tried to play off the pain,” she said. “One of the last conversations I had with him was over chocolate milk. It was the day of his wedding. ‘They keep telling me my sugar’s low,’ ” she recalled her brother saying while sipping chocolate milk. “ ‘They want me to go the hospital but I’m OK.’ ”

“He didn’t want to die in the hospital,” said Megan, and Nick postponed his doctor’s order for admission that weekend in order to marry her.

The ceremony took place as Nick lay on a sofa under a blanket, with Megan kneeling beside him and holding his hand as their parents, Nick’s 8-year old son, Cylan, family members and Nick’s best friend, Josh Butler, looked on.

A family friend, Paul Butman, of Enfield, who had also married Megan’s mother and step-dad four years earlier, presided and read aloud the nine-line Blessing of the Hands, a traditional wedding vow poem.

“These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever,” the vow begins. “These are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch,” it ends.

After Butman finished reading, Megan leaned over to kiss her new husband — then kissed him a second time, as captured in a video taken by Butler on his phone.

When it came time to leave, Cylan leaned in to hug and kiss his father goodbye and said, “I’ll see you again soon, Dad,” recalled Megan Berry and Butler.

“Don’t get your hopes up, buddy,” Berry replied to his son.

The comment startled those present, who were expecting Berry to go into the hospital the next day but appeared to signal that he secretly knew he was weaker than they realized, Megan said.

But that was just like her husband, Megan said, not wanting to do anything that would cause her or his family more grief than they were already feeling.

The couple had agreed not to exchange wedding rings because they didn’t have money to buy them.

Or so Megan thought.

Two hours after the ceremony, after everyone left and they were alone, Nick called Megan in from the kitchen and asked her to fish something out of his pocket. She put her hand in and pulled out a ball of crumpled tissue.

“He told me to open it,” Megan said.

Inside she found two rings: one, a Navaho wedding band; the other with moons and stars engraved on it.

“He picked them out from his mother’s jewelry box,” Megan said.

A couple hours later, about 9 p.m., as they began to get ready to go to sleep, Megan said Nick began “breathing really, really hard.”

“Babe, what’s wrong?” Megan asked her husband.

“I don’t know, it’s really weird, I can’t explain,” Megan said Nick replied.

A pause.

“Don’t freak out, babe,” Nick said.

He then collapsed backward on the couch, and died.

A memorial service and celebration of Nick’s life was held on May 21 at Old City Falls in Strafford, one of Nick’s favorite places. His body was cremated.

“I was treated like a queen,” Megan said of the nearly eight years of her life she lived with Nick Berry.

“We all loved him,” Melissa Champney said. “He was loved.”

John Lippman can be reached at 603-727-3219 or jlippman@vnews.com.