Had Sam Atkins not lost his infant daughter five years ago, he said, he would have never been able to help a grieving mother he met on a mission trip to Kenya this summer.
The woman, who lost her child during the eighth month of pregnancy, was "emotionally torn," Mr. Atkins told hundreds of people during the 14th annual Walk to Remember.
"The first thing she asked in her native Swahili tongue was why - 'Why am I being punished?'" he said. "I shared with her Jesus Christ and the fact that she had done nothing wrong. ... The question 'why' could be replaced with 'How could this be used to help someone else?'"
Offering spiritual guidance and personal anecdotes, Mr. Atkins urged the walk participants, who like him had experienced the deaths of infants, to look to God for answers about the "big three-letter word of why."
The walk, held since its second year at University Hospital, is a day for mothers, fathers, grandparents and other relatives to simply remember their babies, event organizers noted.
In addition to speakers and musical performances during the opening program, participants walked a loop around the hospital, finishing at the Serenity Garden, where they released baby-blue and pink balloons and planted pansies in a heart-shaped flower bed.
Janice Dixon, University Hospital women's service representative, said the gathering is a product of the Parents Healing Together Support Group, which she leads monthly, and has come to be something families look forward to attending yearly.
"It's not a group that you want to be a member of," she said. "But it certainly does help with getting beyond your loss."
Chaplain Joe Dunagan, the keynote speaker, said he had also once lost a baby, telling the audience that there are still times he is saddened by thoughts of "what might have been."
But what is important to remember, he said, is that "no one knows your grief, but everyone knows grief."
"Feel your feelings - they are real, they are yours, they are human," said the chaplain, who has been a hospice and grief counselor for more than a decade. "Shake your fists at the heavens, lower your eyes and cry if you need it; just go on living."
Just by being there, he told the mourners, they were "making healthy choices" and giving something back.
After the chaplain's address, Mr. Atkins dedicated 25 new bricks in memory of infants who have died this year.
"These bricks will be here forever, just as your children will be with you forever and with God forever," he said. "We've dedicated 25 new bricks, 25 new legacies, 25 terrific lives."
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.