Friday, July 3, 2009

God Bless America...and Colby Umbrell

Tuesday, June 3 2008 - We had a project at IRW that was behind schedule. It was coming along, but it had caused a lot of frustration and angst.  Don had recently returned from a long deployment and we were home visiting our families - but the stress of this project had caused me to be grouchy and I’d been sneaking off to do work instead of spending precious and rare free time with my husband. If you’d asked me on Sunday to name some things I was grateful for – I would have been hard pressed to give you a list. 

Then came Monday.  On Monday something happened to me that Oprah would call an “ah-ha” moment.  I would call it a “God slapping me upside the head telling me to get a grip” moment - which is probably one of the many reasons why she has a tv show and I…uh…don’t.

This is a picture of our friend Colby Umbrell a few summers ago. I took the picture while we were making fun of Don because he had asked Colby to come over to "help" move the entertainment center (in the background), and Colby had essentially strapped it on his back and carried it up the stairs by himself. I know bosses aren't supposed to have favorites, but Don had really taken to Colby and we both treated him like a cross between our kid brother and our son - from making sure he had enough to eat to teasing him about his lovelife, and I wouldn't be half surprised if they were giving each other wedgies at work.  A few nights before the guys left for Iraq, Don and I took them out to dinner and while the other boys shamelessly hit on the...uh..."loose" girls at the table next to us, Colby hung back with me, making sure that I didn't feel left out.

On May 3, 2007, 1LT Colby Umbrell was killed by an EFP in Mussayib, Iraq while he and Don were on that 14-month deployment. Yesterday – Monday - I took Don to Arlington National Cemetery to visit Colby’s grave. For those of you who have never been to Arlington…it is a humbling, overwhelming, inspiring, heart-wrenching journey. Once you have lost someone dear to you it also becomes personal - a place of sadness and pride, of questions and of healing. But I am ashamed to say that even while we were driving there I was thinking about work. I was not thinking of my husband or how he was feeling, I was not thinking of Colby, I was not thinking of the stories of sacrifice and braveness all around us. I was thinking about that project and was completely wrapped up in my own head. I was missing the moment.

As we drove through Arlington to Colby’s gravesite Don got quiet, and when we arrived he asked me if he could be alone. So I stepped a few feet away…and as I stood there watching my husband mourn his friend, listening to the wind rustle through the trees and the birds singing and the tinkling of a red, white and blue windchime that someone had hung from a tree – I was suddenly overwhelmed with…I don’t know if you’d call it a new perspective or an epiphany or a good hard God-slap – but the best word I can think gratitude.

Now – my friends will tell you that I am not the most introspective person in the world. I speak my mind more often than I should, I am quick to react (positively and negatively) and I believe in actions more than words or ideas. But at that moment – in that place – I was reminded that if you do not come at the world with a sense of gratitude…you will spend your whole life worrying about the little things and miss what really matters. Even though I’ve heard that for years from talk shows and self-help books and well-meaning motivational speakers, it never really “took” until we were standing there – Don and I – saying goodbye to a friend and finding our own sense of peace.

July 4 2009 - Since that day a year ago a lot has changed - for us and for this country.  The economy seems to be in a free-fall, Don is deployed again, my dad's health is deteriorating, some days our house seems to be falling down around me - and there are times when I just want to throw in the towel and wallow in self-pity and a big ol' tub of ice cream.  But I wear Colby's bracelet around my wrist every day as a reminder, and in the end I am brought back to that afternoon at Arlington - and I remember everything I have to be grateful for.  Don came home, when so many did not.  My family loves me, and I have a chance everyday to make sure they know how much I love them.  This house I complain about shelters me from the sun and the rain and gives me a place to safely lay my head at night.  I am here - and I know that I am blessed beyond measure.

So to Colby...I know how much you touched the lives of the people around you, but I want you to know that this is the gift you gave me.  You have changed me in ways I can't even begin to measure - thank you for helping me find my way back to what really matters.

To Mark, Nancy and Casey...thinking of you today - thank you for sharing Colby with us.


  1. Thank you for sharing Colby with the rest of heart goes out to all the families with loved ones in harms way. I wish I was there to give you a big ole hug and a glass of my special recipe sweet tea. GP

  2. beth, you made me cry. my kids are asking me what is wrong...i'll be sure i try to pass this message to them too! thank you.

  3. Beth...I remember you sharing that story last year, but it was just as touching this year and made me tear up. Know that there are many prayers going out for you and Don...may he return home to you safely...soon. Miss you woman!