“I got bad news, Brent.”
That was how my dad started the phone conversation. If you know my father, you wouldn’t be surprised if what followed was a humorous omission that he burned steaks on the grill or an update that Rite Aid was out of Hamm’s Beer.
But this was different. My dad’s voice was shaking. I braced myself.
There was no amount of bracing that would have prepared me for those horrible words. My dad’s sister—my aunt, my godmother, the beloved great aunt to my kids—had died suddenly. The shock of such sad and unexpected news rendered me partially speechless. Aside from my mom, my dad had just lost the one person he was closest to on this earth. All I could manage were a few words: I am so sorry.
I am blessed to have a close extended family. My dad had seven siblings and with them came spouses and children. Needless to say, I grew up with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. The Resers have always been a close bunch and we have the memories to prove it. If you threw a dime at us for every holiday celebration, camping trip, poker party, firework extravaganza, cornhole tournament, park potluck, sports outing, and let’s-get-together-just-to-get-together shindig over the years, our wealth would be pushing close to that of the Kardashians. The only difference is that our family has a lot more fun. 😉
Now certainly there is an organic component to the regular gatherings over the years. We all love each other and naturally gravitate toward one another. But make no mistake about it—there is still initiating, planning, and executing that needs to be done—and if you followed that trail to the source of who was doing the bulk of that work, it would lead to one person.
There was never a doubt that my Aunt Nancy was the glue of our large, proud Reser family. She had the passion and drive to skillfully bring everyone together and the energy and craziness to make sure everyone was having a good time. Yes, she was both the master planner and the life of the party! But to call my Aunt Nancy the glue of the family solely because of her coordination talents and knack for having fun would be selling our incredible matriarch way too short.
Nancy was the leader of our crazy tribe because of her deep, genuine love for every single member of it. In Nancy’s eyes, everyone was special and everyone brought value—whether you had Reser blood or not. Our friends became my aunt’s friends. Our significant others became like her own children. Introduce someone into the Reser circle and Nancy would welcome them with hospitality and warmth. She was never stingy or hesitant about showing others what made our family special…and really crazy.
My aunt had a special spot in her heart for the two generations underneath her. She always had so much pride for her nieces and nephews and once we started having our own children the enormous capacity of her heart grew for them as well. When it came to her brothers and sisters, she consistently put love and loyalty above all else.
In our large family of bold personalities and characters, Nancy was always the rock.
I was so fortunate to have Aunt Nancy in my life. She went out of her way to commemorate every triumph or tough time with a call, text, letter, or physical visit. We had some deep talks about life. We loved to reminisce together. We had inside jokes.
When I would describe my relationship with Aunt Nancy to my brother and sister, I would usually say, “We’re just close.” Perhaps it was that godmother/godson relationship that was established shortly after I was born but we definitely had something special. My aunt lovingly referred to me as “Brent Thomas” and there was never a time during my 35 years when she wasn’t there for me—even when we lived on opposite coasts.
In 2016, Sidney and I got married. Nancy and her daughter, Abby, made the nearly 3,000-mile trip for the special occasion. They flew a rigorous itinerary that landed them in Charleston in the middle of the night. Dog tired and still 100 miles from their destination, they drove the final two hours in the wee hours of the morning, pulling up in Myrtle Beach as the sun started to rise. For the few days she spent in South Carolina, all she could talk about was how thankful she was to be there.
The photo below, which is from that trip, is a glimpse of what made my aunt so special to me. It was also the image I immediately thought of when I learned she had passed. At the conclusion of our reception, wedding guests gathered below the steps of the venue to send us off. However, my aunt stayed behind and watched from a vantage point different from everyone else. That is her behind the white railing, hand resting comfortably on her cheek with a warm smile of joy and approval across her face—the literal epitome of her having my back—which she always had.
I am crushed that Sidney, Sloan, and Beau won’t have more time with Aunt Nancy but on the same token I am so happy for the time they did have. This past summer we were all at a wedding. I noticed Sidney was missing. I grew a little frantic trying to find her. After scouring what seemed like the entire venue and failing to get through to her via phone, I decided to head to the parking lot to search there. As I started to head that way, I noticed a couple shadowy figures walking my direction from the parking lot, the sound of laughter floating in the dark air. Sid and Nancy were walking lock and step, not a single care in the world as they happily chatted.
The flow of tears streamed down the cheeks of Sloan when we told her the news, the first death our daughter has ever had to deal with. Once she calmed down a bit, I pulled out my iPhone. We watched videos of Nancy with Sloan and her cousins. In one clip, Nancy was dancing with them to “We Will Rock You” by Queen. In another, she was playing the role of orchestra conductor, wildly moving her arms in the air to encourage the kids to sing as loudly as possible to the “Days of the Week” song. Despite the best efforts from three young children jacked up on sugar, their combined enthusiasm still couldn’t surpass that of Nancy.
Just for the four of us, the loss of my Aunt Nancy is devastating. She loved us so much and would always make Sid and I feel so proud when she would look us in the eyes and exclaim, “Damn, you guys sure make beautiful kids.”
For the incredible aunt and matriarch that Nancy Grudzinski was, her kindness was felt well beyond the Reser family. She was extremely generous and would never hesitate to use her own resources to help others. She supported her local community, cheered for the regional sports teams, and always showed compassion for others. Nancy was a sensitive person with a strong moral compass who took pride in doing the right thing.
Nancy leaves behind her life partner, Randy, and her beautiful daughter, Abby. When it comes to her siblings, she is preceded in death by my Uncle Mike, meaning six heartbroken siblings are left behind, including my dad. The relationship my Aunt Nancy and my dad had was truly a beautiful one so please pray for my father as he adjusts to life without her.
I am eternally grateful for the investment of time and love that my Aunt Nancy devoted to me. I am a far better man because of her. When it comes to our big Reser family, Nancy is simply irreplaceable. But if we can learn from her kindred spirit and embrace her special attitude in our own lives, we will be able to move on while honoring the memory of a one-of-a-kind woman. Let us lovingly pray for the soul of my Aunt Nancy. Don’t Blink.