The singer celebrated the best of his year, winning the night’s male vocalist trophy, but not far from his mind was the most trying moment of his year: the recent death of his brother-in-law.
At the singer’s side in the audience Monday was his 13-year-old nephew, Til, whose father, Lee, died Nov. 29. Lee had been married to Bryan’s older sister Kelly, who died suddenly in 2007 at the age of 39.
“Til is my sister and my brother-in-law’s youngest, and we’re going hunting tomorrow on a trip down to south Texas. So he came into town and we dressed him up and let him have a little fun with us tonight,” Bryan, 38, told PEOPLE.
“My wife Caroline took him shopping and got him some nice clothes and I loaned him one of my watches, so he’s having a good time.”
Bryan says he was touched by the outpouring of support from the country music community – and from his fans – after his family’s continued tragedies.
“Many times at night, I would find myself just [scrolling] through my Twitter and reading people saying they were thinking about us,” he says. “That’s a big deal.”
“Our family has dealt with a lot of hurt already and then to have this with Lee is a whole ‘nother level,” he added. “It’s nice to know people are thinking about us. It’s what gets you through.”
Bryan echoed the sentiments later in the evening during his male vocalist of the year acceptance speech.
“I want to get serious just for a second. I want to thank all of my fans for the last couple of weeks in my life, for keeping my family in your prayers. And I want to also recognize the country music community, all the artists,” he said.
“Fans, let me explain something to you: You guys support wonderful artists, because they have rallied around me and helped me and my family through the last couple of weeks. It’s just nice to feel loved … thank you guys for an amazing 2014.”