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December 14, 2017, will mark five years without loved ones for families of children and educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Newtown Bee will share remembrances of victims of 12/14 throughout the fall, written by family members or with the assistance of newspaper staff. Not all families chose to participate, and we respect that. This week, Krista and Rich Rekos write about the love and loss of their daughter, Jessica.
Jessica Adrienne Rekos was born on May 10, 2006, and immediately became the center of our world. The amount of love we had for her was surreal and immense. In her six years, seven months, and four days that we shared with her, she helped us create a home filled with laughter, love, and happiness. She became a big sister when she was 2, and again when she was 6. She loved nothing more than taking care of her brothers — helping them, teaching them, and playing with them. Jessica and her brother Travis were best friends and did everything together. Her instant bond with her Nana was inexplicable and beautiful. And her love for her aunts, uncles, and cousins radiated when she was with them.
Jessica developed a love for horses and begged us to let her take lessons when she was just 5. After one lesson, there was no turning back. She fell in love with horses and told us she wanted to “ride forever.” She also took an interest in learning about whales and would do “research” in her notebook, writing down as many facts about whales as she could. She loved playing outside with her neighborhood friends — riding bikes, putting on shows, playing games in the driveway, and taking walks. Jessica loved country music and had dreams of being a cowgirl one day. She loved math and used to ask us to quiz her on her multiplication facts during car rides. Jessica was funny. She could have us laughing so hard that we couldn’t breathe. Friends would tell us how magnetic her personality was, and how they loved having conversations with her. At Thanksgiving time, her aunt asked her who her best friend in her class was. Jessica responded, “Everybody. We’re all friends.”
On December 14, 2012, a monster killed our daughter in her classroom. Our life as a family was over.
In the months immediately following her death we saw the best in humanity. We were so grateful and appreciative to those friends and neighbors that weren’t afraid of our grief, and left groceries and meals at our front door, the ones who reached out with a text: “I’m at the Big Y — do you need milk?” or the ones who said, “Can I watch the boys for a bit so you can rest?” The cards, phone calls, visits, and people checking in with a simple, “How are you?” were so needed and so helpful. This continues today with the support from friends and the kind gestures and notes of support from strangers.
It wasn’t too soon after Jessica’s murder that we also began to see the other side of humanity. Gifts and offers to the town quickly lost their meaning as entitlement and greed set in. Organizations popped up that claimed to help those affected, but never reached out to us. People who had dreams of creating a facility or organization in our town before December 14 now used our tragedy to generate donations to get established. As free concerts, sporting events, and countless gifts flooded Newtown, we watched as so many people happily benefited in the name of healing. Observing the complaints and opinions about various tragedy-related issues — frequently expressed without any reverence for those who died — continues to hurt us. At the end of the day, we still find ourselves apologizing to Jessica at her grave for the way in which people responded to her death.
During our early grief, we began to observe that various politically charged groups that had formed in response to the tragedy became vocal and in some cases, had used Jessica’s name and picture in efforts to promote their agendas. This was unnerving to us as we feel strongly that we do not want Jessica’s legacy to be about how she died. Instead, we focus on the beautiful life she lived. We established The Jessica Rekos Foundation in 2013 to honor Jessica. Our foundation provides horseback riding lessons, equine therapy to children, funding for whale research and conservation, and also provides funding for local facilities to enhance their security measures. We know that if we had given Jessica money and asked her how she would want to spend it, she would tell us to do something for her beloved whales and horses. We are proud to say that to date we have contributed more than $57,000 for horseback riding scholarships and equine therapy programs, more than $90,000 to whale research and conservation efforts, and over $77,000 for security enhancements at local preschools and youth facilities. Her work was far from being done at just 6 years old, so we honor our daughter by keeping her passion for horses alive and for continuing her whale “research.”
The hole in our family is something we are still learning to live with. This pain is never ending. There are moments during the day when our hearts feel like they’re going to explode under the weight of our grief. Our loss is woven into every fiber of our bodies. We are still learning how to function with this pain. As we ache for our daughter, we are raising three little boys. Jessica’s brothers have been our lifeline. We find that keeping busy with their activities, sports, and school schedules has been necessary for our grief. Putting our energy into making sure they each have the childhood they deserve has been our way of coping. We are able to cheer for Travis at his games, laugh at Shane’s crazy antics, and smile at Austin’s innocent view of his world. We soak up their cuddles and spend as much family time together as we can. We tell Travis the way we will “do” this life without Jessica is through our love for each other, and our love for Jessica. We miss Jessica. We miss her stories, her giggles, her quick wit, and her helpful and motherly nature toward her younger brothers. We miss tucking her into bed at night and her “just one more hug” demands. We miss the feeling she gave us as her parents — how proud she made us, how much she laughed with us, how funny she thought we were, and how much love she gave us.
You are missed beyond belief, Jessica.