Sahar Fares, a 24-year-old paramedic, was planning her wedding. Instead, her family held her funeral after she died in the explosion that tore through Beirut.
On Thursday, Sahar Fares' fiancé and family gave her the wedding party she will never have.
A zaffe band played for her, the flute striking a joyful tune while drums kept the beat, as family and friends threw rice and flower petals. The musicians, in festive, gold-embroidered white gowns, played while uniformed firefighters carried her white coffin to a waiting hearse.
Her fiancé, Gilbert Karaan, sat atop the shoulders of a relative, crying as he waved goodbye for the last time, blowing her a final kiss.
"Everything you wanted will be present except you in a white wedding dress," Karaan had vowed in a tribute posted on social media. "You broke my back, my love, you broke my heart. Life has no taste now that you're gone."
Fares, a 24-year-old paramedic, was one of at least 145 people killed on Tuesday by the massive explosion that levelled most of the Port of Beirut, devastated entire neighbourhoods, injured more than 5,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In a split second, it left Lebanon's capital looking like a war zone without a war.
Each death is a unique, unfathomable tragedy, but the story of Fares, the young bride-to-be, has rippled across social media, capturing the attention and heartache of many Lebanese. The determined daughter of a family of modest means, she had managed to break into the nearly all-male world of the Beirut Fire Brigade, devoting herself to public service and making plans to build a family of her own.
Instead, her relatives and Karaan, 29, buried her.
Fares called Karaan on Tuesday evening to show him the fire that was consuming a warehouse at the Port of Beirut. No one needed medical attention, so she sat in a fire engine, watching her colleagues as they struggled to douse the flames.
As the roar of the blaze intensified, she climbed down from the truck, holding her phone up to give Karaan a better look at what appeared to be fireworks igniting, shimmers of red and silver within the thick smoke. The sounds were weird, Fares said, like nothing she and her team had ever encountered.
He pleaded with her to run for cover, relatives said later, and she did, but too late. The last image Karaan saw of his fiancée was her shoes pounding on pavement as she sought safety. And then, a blast.
"My beautiful bride. Our wedding was to be held on June 6, 2021," he wrote Wednesday in his online message, accompanied by a photo of her posing proudly in her paramedic's uniform. Instead, it will be "tomorrow, my love."
"I loved you, love you and will always love you," it went on, "until I am reunited with you where we'll continue our journey together."
Trained as a nurse, Fares decided in 2018 to enter the civil service. She craved the job stability and social benefits of a government career, she told relatives, after she and her two sisters watched her father, an aluminum welder, and her mother, a schoolteacher, struggle to make ends meet.
She grew up in the village of al-Qaa, in northern Lebanon, on the border with Syria, and dreamed of opportunities and security it could not provide. In 2016, residents said, at the height of the Islamic State group's rampage across the Middle East, the militants stormed into al-Qaa, killed five of its residents and wounded dozens more.
A cousin of Fares, awakened by the attack, rushed out to help his neighbours and was one of those killed in the fighting.
For many people from her village, her death was too much to bear, apparently stemming not from the external threats that have long plagued Lebanon, but from the internal ills of government corruption and indifference.
Officials say that what detonated was a huge cache of ammonium nitrate that had been stored near the waterfront for years, despite repeated warnings about the danger it posed and discussions about what to do with it. That has set off a wave of anger at the government and demands that those responsible be punished.
In the moments after Fares was laid to rest, al-Qaa's residents seethed with anger and despair. They had lost too much, they said, dedicating too many of their own for a country that was barely functioning.
"Our history is one of martyrs and martyrdom," said al-Qaa's mayor, Bachir Mattar. "Sahar is a message to our youth that there are people who commit to the nation and lose everything. I wish there was a nation that was worth such sacrifice and commitment, though. I wish we had a proper state."
The village named its sports field for her, "in recognition of the martyr of all martyrs."
"People are fed up," Mattar continued. "We are proud of her sacrifice, but we are just as bothered. Why? What was it all for? For a dysfunctional system doesn't know how to solve a single problem."
In the months before she died, Fares was saving up to prepare her home for the wedding and to buy her wedding dress. But like other Lebanese citizens, she saw her savings evaporate overnight as the currency crashed, losing 80% of its value this year.
The Lebanese government put a curb on bank withdrawals, allowing citizens to pull out only a few hundred dollars a month. Hyperinflation quickly ate into what little money she had, making everyday products like groceries unaffordable.
Fares and her fiancé, Karaan, took pride in their service to the country. He works as an officer in the Lebanese State Security, which provides internal policing and protection to the country's politicians.
They posted photos of themselves in uniform to their social media accounts, Fares sitting inside a firetruck peeking out an open window, smiling in her camo uniform.
"She was the most loving person I know," said her cousin, Theresa Khoury, 23. "Kind and caring and always looking out for her parents and sisters. She was full of life and loved life. Her dream was to marry the love of her live and spend the rest of her life with him."
Written by: Maria Abi-Habib
© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES