Sydney Reiter’s grandson, Zach, has this moment burned into his memory: riding in his grandma’s silver Honda Sedan listening to Christina Aguilera’s 2002 ballad “You are Beautiful” on repeat.
The duo were on their way to a family cottage in Canada, and for the duration of the drive, Sydney belted the lyrics, encouraging her grandson to do the same.
“I will always appreciate that moment,” Zach said. “I could see that the song’s message really stuck with Grandma because she sees people as beautiful in every single way, no matter what they say.”
The moment and the song are representative of who Sydney is as a woman and why she has been an extraordinary spiritual guide, storyteller, coach, caregiver, chef, cheerleader, inspiration and friend to all eight of her grandchildren.
“I want to truly thank Sydney for being the best grandma that I could have asked for,” Nick said. “I would not say that if it weren’t true. If I can be half of the grandparent to my grandkids that [she has been] to me, I would be happy.”
“She’s the kind of person who dances when she wants to dance, sings when she wants to sing,” Bailey said. “She’s an infectious kind of happy.”
“You see a lot of wisdom in the way she lives her life."
Sydney’s inquisitive mind and friendly demeanor give her a youthful energy. She is not the stereotypical grandmother, watching from the sidelines. She leaps at opportunities to be involved — entrenched, really — in her grandchildren’s lives.
“Even from a young age, I never looked at Sydney as the same as my friend’s grandparents,” Nick said. “She always seemed younger, more vibrant and enthusiastic — always willing to do activities and be places.”
But Sydney’s personality is deeper than her bubbly and extroverted exterior, Nick said.
“I would describe Sydney as incredibly perceptive,” Nick said. “In my opinion, being perceptive is a sign of higher intelligence and is a gift that I don’t find in most people.”
“You see a lot of wisdom in the way she lives her life,” Spencer added.
Mckenna said that her grandma has the power to illuminate every room she walks into.
“She is always surrounded with a bright aura, and this radiates through her,” Mckenna said. “She is the epitome of joy and brings a sense of light to our family that is irreplaceable.”
Mckenna once relied on her grandmother’s bright aura to get through a negative, traumatizing experience.
A few years ago, Mckenna contracted bacterial spinal meningitis, a life-threatening illness that landed her in the hospital for the better part of two weeks. Though Sydney lived in a different state, she hopped on a plane to visit Mckenna.
“It was amazing how fast I recovered,” Mckenna said, “and I think part of that has to do with the positive energy she brought with her.”
Her grandmother’s positive energy has helped her through a number of difficult moments in her life.
“I have struggled with medical issues my whole life, and this has taken a toll on my mental health,” Mckenna said. “But Grandma has always been there to raise my spirits and remind me that everything happens for a reason and to remain positive.”
That’s not unusual for Sydney. She is somewhat of a savant in passing down words of wisdom to her grandchildren, helping them navigate the bad, good, crazy and wonderful moments of life.
Though details of the moment have long since faded, the when and where forgotten, Spencer will always remember what his grandmother once said to him.
“Doesn’t the air just smell so good today?” Spencer recalls her saying, as she stopped and breathed in the breeze.
Spencer said Sydney lives her whole life like she lived that day — appreciating life for the small moments, the things you might miss if you move too quickly, which has inspired him to do the same.
LET’S EAT, GRANDMA
Breakfast, lunch or dinner with Grandma is a staple in the lives of Sydney’s grandchildren. Over a meal, Sydney asks inquisitive questions and tries to get to know each and every one of her grandchildren on an individual level.
“She is genuinely interested in how you’re doing,” Marissa said. ”I think this is one of the traits that stands out the most — how truly caring she is.”
Her caring nature has translated into her lunches becoming therapeutic, Kendall said.
“One of the things [she’s said] that sticks with me is letting yourself be angry or sad when you’re angry or sad.” Kendall said. “You need to accept where you are and feel those emotions.”
Taylor felt a similar sentiment. Her grandma taught her to embrace all her feelings, including positive ones.
“She told me once, something along the lines of ‘Don’t kid yourself — if your hopes are up, your hopes are up,’” Taylor said. “Now I say and think that all the time. I let myself feel happy or hopeful for things that are not certain to happen.”
While that piece of advice may seem obvious to some, Taylor said, she used to try and level her expectations to an accessible reality. Now she’s given herself the ability to dream big — something that Sydney has continuously done throughout her lifetime.
"Grandma has always been there to raise my spirits and remind me that everything happens for a reason and to remain positive.”
NEVER BACK DOWN
Sydney hasn’t had the picture-perfect life. She went through a divorce when society deemed that unacceptable, struggled through a spell of crippling depression (again, when society hardly diagnosed the mental illness) and completely changed her career, even going back to school, when she was in her forties.
All while raising three spirited children.
Sydney’s strength in pushing through the most difficult moments of her life — accepting and asking for help when she needed it and pursuing her passions — has influenced the rest of her family.
“She never gives up on what she wants,” Marissa said. “She stays true to what she believes and takes a stand on the wrong things in life.”
Bailey appreciates her grandmother’s willingness to fight in the trenches for what she believes in. She loves watching her grandmother attend rallies, call her legislators and stand up for the people (especially during this particular moment in history).
Watching her grandmother, Bailey said she has learned “to listen to myself, do what I want to do, not what other people want me to do.”
But Sydney’s vigor isn’t only in her willingness to fight the good fight — it’s in her emotional and spiritual journey.
“She has gone through a great spiritual journey throughout her life and that has brought some greatness along with it,” Nick said. “It is also something that is continuously worked upon, which brings a continuous adventure.”
Nick said Sydney’s willingness to adjust, continuously learn and apply new ideas to life has profoundly influenced his own self.
“It is something that I am trying to emulate in my life,” Nick said. “A lot of people get stuck in one way of thinking, which closes so many doors. I have learned you are never done growing, but you have to allow yourself to grow.”
As Sydney enters her 76th year, her grandchildren all believe she has a bright future.
“My grandma’s personality really highlights living the best life she can and always having a positive attitude.” Marissa said. “I think that her future holds happiness, more success and great-grandchildren.”
Bailey simply said, “She has a young heart; she can do whatever she wants.” ♦