Family and friends of Jessica Joy Rees made the Wednesday evening celebration of her life one the 12-year-old herself would have enjoyed.
Thousands attended the service in memory of the young swimmer, a member of the Mission Viejo Nadadores better known as "Jessie," who .
The service included Jessica's favorite Bible passages, favorite Christian songs—the ones that she listened to during cancer treatments—and, at its end, favorite treats—candy, cupcakes and cookies.
One of the handful of relatives and friends asked to speak, a teacher of Jessica's recalled her unassuming nature, sharing that Jessica once requested the smallest part in a school play.
After the Rancho Santa Margarita girl was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in March 2011, Jessica spent the subsequent months inspiring others to persevere in the fight against pediatric cancer through her Facebook page and a blog about her experience.
"Isn't that ironic that the girl who didn't want to be noticed has played the biggest part of all?" her teacher said at the service.
Jessica's father Erik Rees, a Saddleback pastor, led his daughter's celebration service, pausing occasionally to collect himself and wipe away tears.
He asked others to "paint a portrait of Jessie's beautiful life" through their words, accompanied by photographs of her childhood and faith songs.
In addition to those who attended the memorial in person, there were others watching online as Jessica's relatives recalled her indomitable spirit, which persisted even as her physical health faltered. Before the services had even begun, the community was commenting on her Facebook page that had garnered more than 116,200 "likes."
Jessica's best friend, Sophia, stood to share her thoughts, but was overwhelmed by sobs, so Rees read them out loud for her.
Sophia's memories included the many times the pair had laughed together at their silly antics, but also her regret that she never found out what Jessica wanted to be when she grew up.
Another friend, a young Nadadore, said that the audience should take a message from her untimely death: "If you all never ever give up, Jessie's legacy will live on, just like her love for every single person on Earth."
He, like Rees, said that they would miss filling JoyJars—the care packages that she sent to other children with cancer—with Jessica. Erik vowed to continue sending the packages out under the auspices of The NEGU Foundation, the organization Jessie inspired to help children with life-threatening illnesses.
Even though Jessica's nature was not to be in the spotlight, her teacher recalled that her sweet and playful personality made her the "epitome of joy" to have in the classroom.
Jessica's swim coach of two years recalled his young charge's courage, and talked about the one day she overcame her fears and waded into the ocean with her hand in his during a summer beach practice.
"As her grip tightened around my hand I felt it also tighten around my heart," he said. "This was courage; this was trust; this was faith that even though the ocean was so much greater than the both of us, she knew it would be OK."
Saddleback's pastor, Rick Warren, closed the ceremony by delivering a sermon.
An artist who had been working on a mural on stage during the ceremony, divided into three paintings, wrapped up the project, with the pieces spelling out J-O-Y.
Jessica's father, mother, sister and brother stepped onto stage as the celebration ended, inviting attendees to a reception with Jessica's favorite meal—dessert.