The specter of death always looms in a news room. We chase down leads and updates all day on other people’s misery; terror attacks, car accidents, murders, fires, even divorces, arrests and natural disasters. We sprinkle in births, marriages, consumer advice and trend to mix things up but depravity and despair lead. We make our way in during state of emergencies, on holidays, and in spite of our better judgment. We bond through common experiences and a drive to shed light on issues, places, things and people. More importantly, we connect over our battle not to lose our humanity, compassion and integrity. Certainly, this is not an easy task given the things we’ve all seen. Yet, year after year, we face this challenge, and for the most part, we find a reason to smile every day. The biggest obstacle wasn’t the horror 9/11, the deadly Tsunami, Hurricane Sandy, or the blackout. It has been losing one of our own.
Yesterday, I stood stoically as the general manager and news director at Eyewitness News in New York informed us, officially, of the loss of our colleague and friend Lisa Colagrossi. I watched as tears fell from the eyes of people who write about other people’s misery every day without flinching. Lisa’s loss was personal; it hurt. A producer, Andy Savas, didn’t miss a beat. He asked everyone to bow their heads for prayer. I had had been walking back to my desk when I heard him. Yet, I turned around and joined the crude circle. Moments later, we went back to crafting the 4, 5, 5:30 and 6 p.m. newscasts.
I thought for a moment that I wasn’t affected. Then, I realized I was losing focus, slowing down on completing my assignments. I took several deep breaths but I couldn’t avoid the memories of the woman I’d spoken to just the day before, mere hours before she’d leave us all. I kept thinking about Lisa’s final moments. I was sure she was wishing she could make it home to get husband and sons. I thought about her picture from the Saturday before of the happy foursome out to dinner and I hoped that was on her mind. Still, I was comforted knowing her sudden illness inspired her cameraman, Marvin Hoffman, to rush through traffic to an ambulance to get her help. He did everything he could to save her life. Yet, he nor the doctors could.
Anger welled up inside me as I recalled the woman who, even though her shift only crossed mine for a couple hours, kept track of my health travails. Lisa would call whenever I returned from medical leave to welcome me back and offer help. She offered a hug every time she saw me. And, on those rare days we were both in the office, she’d walk over to catch up or send me a top line instant message. If I hadn’t been around for a while, Lisa would reach out to me on Facebook. The hockey mom who got up at 2:30 am cared about me. She encouraged me as I fought for my life and I was pissed that I didn’t even get a chance to return the favor.
I kept thinking how I truly no longer understood God’s plan. I thought it was for us all to do good things in this lifetime and we’d be blessed. But, Lisa was gone. I wondered how that could be a blessing. I pondered why I fought a chronic illness that threatened my life for two decades now and came close to taking it on several occasions, yet I was s sitting in the newsroom and she wasn’t. Hell, I had a TIA behind the wheel on the New Jersey Turnpike and I made it home. Lisa suffered a ruptured aneurysm in a news van feet from an ambulance and didn’t make it.
I wanted to shout, life isn’t fair. Lisa ran the half marathon, she was healthier than I am I thought as I crawled through our tape room looking for a reel containing footage from her coverage of Hurricane Francis. Two other people had tried to find it before me without success. Still, I stopped, prayed and came up with it. I handed it off to producer, Jamie Nguyen, and headed home, taking my memories of Lisa with me. On the train ride to New Jersey, I thought about the grim reaper that had pillaged my work place taking a dear, sweet friend. I realized, he, it had done so too many times prior. My heart felt heavy thinking about the other colleagues who perished way too young: Art Daley, Don DiFranco, Glenn Steinfast, Ted Holtzclaw, Karl Hassenfranz, and too many more to name. I looked at the snow falling out the window and hoped Lisa’s death would be my last while at Eyewitness News.
I wondered if the stress of the job was killing us or it was part of god’s plan to remind us that work isn’t what matters most. Lisa knew that. She worked grueling hours so that she could be there for and with her family. She was proud of her work but even more so of the men she was raising. Thoughts swirled in my head all night long. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t cry. I just laid there and wondered what to do next. I kept thinking, Lisa was way too young; that she wasn’t much older than me. I kept repeating 49 is too young. I dwelled on what she would miss; the major milestones her sons have yet to reach. As the hours passed, I was became more heartbroken.
Before I knew it, the sun rose for me on another day. I immediately grabbed my phone and began reading the tributes from Lisa’s other colleagues and friends from far and wide. Then, I flipped on the TV and watched her obituary on Channel 7. Tears fell from my eyes and a smile crept across my lips. Lisa was, is, loved I thought. She will live on. Her family is generously donating her organs so others can thrive. Moreover, her spirit is alive and well in all of us who loved her.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Lisa, the consummate journalist, was teaching me something from the afterlife; to love, laugh and live the best way I can until the end come so that even my life ends abruptly it’s a full one. Rest in peace, Lisa!
About the author:
Nika C. Beamon is a TV News Writer in New York. She’s the author of the memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House (7/14) and the highly praised non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married (Chicago Review Press, 2009).
#RIPLisaColagrossi #EWN #Death