(CNN) -- For the third time, Mahmoud Al-Qassab lowers the body of one of his children into the ground. He steps back as neighbors and relatives shovel dirt over his teenage daughter's grave.
He does not cry or wail.
"I thank God this is my third martyr: Ahmed, Abdullah and now her. I thank God, and I will not say anything against his fate," Mahmoud told an activist filming the small funeral.
Just a few months ago, 18-year-old Ayat Al-Qassab sang and danced with her mother and aunts as they dressed the bride in her wedding gown. Now, her shattered and bloodied body lies in a grave below the crumbling, bullet-ridden buildings of Homs.
Read more about Ayat's wedding
Free Syrian Army fighters stand near damaged cars in Aleppo on Thursday, December 27. Click through to view images from Syria from December, or see photos of the conflict from November.
A man walks near a missile on Tuesday, December 25, at an army barracks outside Damascus, Syria, that has been taken over by the Free Syrian Army.
Free Syrian Army fighters prepare a homemade missile before they launch it toward the military airport in Aleppo, Syria, on Sunday, December 23. Free Syrian Army members display shrapnel from what they say are the remains of a rocket fired from the Syrian army in northern Aleppo on Thursday, December 20. An unexploded bomb is seen lodged in a street in Ghouta, east of Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, December 19.
A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon through a hole in the wall of the structure where he is positioned in the Qastal Harami area of Aleppo on December 19.
A child sits in the back of a vehicle at the border crossing leading to Masnaa, Lebanon, as people wait to stamp their documents before leaving Syria on December 19. Click through to view images from Syria from December, or see photos of the conflict from November.
Palestinian children who fled the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmuk wait at the Masnaa Border Crossing leading into Lebanon on December 19.
Syrians line up outside a bakery offering cheap bread in Aleppo, Syria on Sunday, December 16. A Syrian boy walks past a rebel fighter in the northern town of Darkush, Syria, on Friday, December 14.
Two men on a motorcycle lead a horse through the northern town of Darkush, Syria, on December 14, 2012.
Rebel fighters push out a boat carrying two Syrian women fleeing to Turkey through the Orontes River near the northern Syrian town of Darkush on December 14.
Passengers gather at a terminal at the airport in Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday, December 12.
A member of the Syrian opposition's Al-Buraq Brigade stands guard on a main road in the northern Syrian town of Ain Dakna near the Turkish border on Monday, December 10. Click through to view images of the fighting from December, or see photos of the conflict from November.
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes position as he aims his weapon in Aleppo's al-Amereya district on Tuesday, December 11.
Men warm themselves by a fire on a street corner in Aleppo, Syria, on Sunday, December 9.
A rebel soldier watches Al-Jazeera news in a shop near the front lines in Aleppo on December 9.
A rebel soldier prays in a shop in Aleppo on December 9.
Syrians mourn a fallen fighter at a rebel base in the al-Fardos area of Aleppo on Saturday, December 8.
A Syria rebel commander sits behind a desk in his bombed-out position in Aleppo on December 8.
A Syrian rebel fighter emerges from a hole in a wall in Aleppo on December 8.
Rebel fighters take part in a demonstration against the Syrian regime after Friday prayers in Aleppo on December 7.
A wounded rebel fighter is transported to a hospital in the back of a truck in Aleppo, Syria, on Thursday, December 6. At least 23 people died in Syria on Thursday, most of them in Damascus and Aleppo, according to the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria. Rebel soldiers stand guard inside a building in Aleppo on December 6. Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the U.N. refugee agency, meets with Syrian refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp outside Mafraq, Jordan, on December 6. In this handout from the Shaam News Network, Free Syrian Army fighters stand guard against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Al-khalidiya neighborhood of Homs on Tuesday, December 4. In this handout from the Shaam News Network, Free Syrian Army fighters take cover in destroyed buildings during clashes with regime forces on December 4.
Syrians cross the border from Ras al-Ain, Syria, to the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar on Tuesday, December 4. Boys walk through a damaged area In Aleppo, Syria, seen through a destroyed car on December 4.
A man inspects rubble in a neighborhood of Aleppo on Sunday, December 2.
The bodies of three children reportedly killed in a mortar shell attack are laid out for relatives to identify at a makeshift hospital in Aleppo on December 2. Smoke rises from fighting in the Hanano and Bustan al-Basha districts of Aleppo on Saturday, December 1. Syrian-Kurdish women and members of the Popular Protection Units, an armed opposition group to the Syrian government, stand guard during a comrade's funeral in a northern Syrian border village on December 1.
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Where things stand in Syria
Escaping Syria to marry "She was killed and she took my heart, my soul, my mind and everything with her, but we will not give up. We will not retreat. We must keep moving forward," husband-turned-widower Mohammad Jumbaz said quietly.
Ayat did not lead battles or chair diplomatic talks. She is just like many other Syrians -- young, hopeful, and now dead.
"There was no daughter like her. She was bright and beautiful and playful. Then the siege happened and with it her destiny," Aisha Al-Qassab, Ayat's mother, said as tears streamed down her face.
Ayat and Mohammad recently found out they were expecting their first child. The new family was elated, even as UNICEF estimates that 2.5 million people, including many children, are affected by the violence and instability in Syria.
"My love, she was only married a few months, then pregnant and now a martyr," Ayat's mother said.
A 120 mm rocket fired into the family home struck Ayat in the head, killing her and her unborn child instantly. Ayat's father, who was standing nearby, was hit in the shoulder and wounded.
"The week before she died, a rocket attack injured her hand, and I had this feeling in my heart that it was a sign. It was as if God gave us just one more week to take her in and say goodbye," Mohammad said.
Young, defiant and in love
Brave and defiant, Ayat hardly spoke of the frivolities of bridal gowns and wedding cake.
"I wore a white dress, but we did not have a traditional wedding because of this animal in power," Ayat said in an interview shortly after getting married. "We hope once the regime falls we can have a wedding, because our happiness is the end of this government."
Although Ayat and Mohammad married just a week after meeting, the two were in love, her mother said.
"She was young, and I had not planned on her marrying, but the siege brought her destiny. A young hardworking man liked her and she saw him and he saw her and they fell in love and got married," Aisha said, shaking her head as if trying to forget.
The newlyweds saw their marriage as a symbol of the resistance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
For Mohammad, the part-time rebel fighter, revolution remained his shield, but the young man also believed living and loving was the greatest defiance of all.
"She was wonderful. We were newlyweds and we were happy. Even if she upset me I could not be mad at her. Her gentleness captured my heart and I pray that God opens the gates of heaven for her," he said, cracking a tiny smile as he remembered his wife.
Guns and battles are far from Mohammad's true passion: baking sweet desserts. The young pastry chef loves making indulgent treats for Homs' fighters, families and children.
"When I give a family sweets, it is as if I am handing them a treasure," he said as he laughed loudly for the first time, thankful for the power of a single cookie in a city ravaged by war.
Ayat shared Mohammad's delight for delivering glimpses of joy through pastries drizzled with sweet "ater" or syrup, even as gas, flour, sugar and milk were in short supply.
"She loved sweets, and more than that, she loved to watch me make them. We had even made date cookies and she died before she could eat them, so we gave them away," Mohammad said, still smiling.
A childhood cut short
Ayat Al-Assab was the third of five children. Ayat was born and raised in the Old District of Homs, Syria's third largest city. Her father was a laborer and her mother stayed at home with the kids, instilling in her the value of hard work and family. The third of five children, Ayat's two older brothers spoiled the brown-eyed girl while the two younger siblings depended on her care.
"She loved to study and she would always study. When the siege happened there were no schools left open," Ayat's mother said.
More than 2,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed in civil war-related violence, and about 600 schools serve as makeshift shelters for internally displaced people, according to the Syrian government.
"She loved to help me with the housework, but I would not let her. I wanted her to study," Aisha said.
The western city of Homs relies largely on industrial jobs. For Ayat's family, education provided an opportunity for their children to escape manual labor in a country where the average monthly salary is $300.
"She wanted to be an expert in Sharia law -- maybe she could have even got her Ph.D. if she got good grades, but God did not plan this for her," Aisha said.
War and marriage
The Syrian uprising sparked by revolts across the Middle East forever changed Ayat's country and transformed Homs into a bastion of resistance against al-Assad's government.
"(Ayat) grew up on the love of God and when the demonstrations started she fell in love with the revolution and was very proud of her brothers who fought and died for freedom," Mahmoud said.
Revolution morphed into a full-scale civil war, consuming every corner of the beautiful country in a bloody and relentless fight for power. Amid a stifling siege on Homs, where the Syrian Army regularly blocked food, medicine and supplies, Mohammad and Ayat got married.
I would prefer my honeymoon to be here amid the bombs and shells than for me to abandon my nation.
Ayat Al-Assab"I am very happy here with my life. Here our life is better than a honeymoon outside our country. We are not like the people who fled. Here we have our pride and we are defending our nation. I would prefer my honeymoon to be here amid the bombs and shells than for me to abandon my nation," Ayat told CNN earlier this year.
But as the bitter winter cold and intensifying government shelling added another dimension to the struggle for survival, Ayat began fearing for her life and the life of her unborn child.
"She began to get very scared, and every time she would hear a plane fly overhead she would become afraid," Mohammad recalled, "but she never asked to leave Homs. The opposite -- she was proud to stay, and I thank God for her martyrdom."
In Islam, martyrdom is a high honor granted by God to those who die fighting for their religion, country or rights of their community. Muslims believe a martyr is destined for heaven, so loved ones must celebrate rather than mourn their death.
"God gave her parents the patience to overcome the death of her brothers, and God gave me the patience to overcome the death of my brother. God willing, he will grant us the patience to overcome Ayat's death, too," Mohammad said.
After nearly two years of conflict, more than 40,000 people have lost their lives. Syria sees a steady stream of funerals for its so-called martyrs, where shrill cries of joy compete with wails of pain in haunting processions for the dead.
As difficult as it seems to rejoice over the death of a loved, the Islamic principle of martyrdom is at its core about blind faith that those who died righteously reside in a better place in the afterlife. It is a conviction the family clings to when nothing else can explain the death of a young, pregnant woman only a few months into her marriage.
"We had prayed that she would live and they would have children," Aisha said.
"And that we would become a grandpa and grandma, but God remembered her and he took her," her husband interjected.
"I pray that he destines us to martyrdom, too," Aisha added.
The family's near impenetrable faith prevents them from protesting Ayat's fate, but by accepting her death, the family must survive on memories of her life.
"I will remember everything about her. What more can I say? I will remember everything, everything," Mohammad murmured.
And with that, the family members bowed their heads and fell silent.