The Children Who Inspire

How an Absent Child can make you live...

The Children Who Inspire
Ally and a chalk rainbow (Photo: Barbara Henderson)

When I think about the women who have inspired me in my life, I find that I am confronted by a mental list that is broader than it is long. It is hard to place those that lead in a linear field: their influence is one which has as much breadth as depth.

There are those that inspire in a nuts and bolts way, like members of our family, or friends that may not be setting the world on fire in terms of entrepreneurial brilliance, academic achievements or sporting finesse, but who influence us in other ways. Maybe the way they live regardless of adversity, or the generous way they encompass others: they lead from a position of close proximity to our daily lives.

Then there are those who inspire us from afar: people who are in the public limelight and whose words and actions give us a framework that provides us with a guide to our own growth outside of our safe, familial sphere. In this category are people like Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, Gandhi, Mandela....

But when reflecting on women who inspires me now, on a daily basis, I find that it is our own children that provide the impetus to try to live life in a way that is more worthwhile. They are the ones that drive the need for self-improvement, whether by their candid, honest blunt appraisal of our failings, or by virtue of the self-reflection that comes when we realise we have judged them harshly, treated them unkindly or caused them unnecessary feat or anxiety. As young adults, our babies now provide me with feedback that makes me feel sad about my failings, but at the same time they fill me with hope for the future, and memories that encourage the every way.

And of all of our children, it is the one who is no longer with us that inspires me every day. Compassionate and caring, blunt and with wit and humour that kept us on our toes, it is Alexandra Catherine (Ally), at 22 years of age, that provides the wisdom and steady presence that makes me strive to be a better person every day. It is a long process, but she is not in a rush. As a mother, I have a lot to learn about the right words and actions to use, appropriate for child, location and situation; as a human being, I have a lot to learn about a lot of things: how to live with principle and good grace, how to foster kindness and humility, how to makes sure all of those around me know how much I care about them, and how much more they matter than anything else in the world.

From her lofty position, Ally get me out of bed every morning. It is her presence in my heart and mind that makes me pull up the sheets and quilt every morning. It is her who ensures I make it out of the house, to feed and work the horses that were her friends and the focus of her life, and it is her who makes me continue to be engaged in politics, in caring for the world, and in caring for others.

At 19 years of age, which is how old she was when she died on the farm where she was working, Ally was studying equine science, with a few forensic science and social justice units on the side. She had handed out how-to-vote material for the Greens at a recent State election, and had traveled to Africa to work on a property that was involved in a wildlife protection program that involved community development and education as well as protection on lions. She rode horses effectively, trained them brilliantly...and the world ahead of her was one filled with the hope and energy that comes with direction, and a life filled with compassion and the desire to create a more equitable world. As her chief helper in the horse department, and mentor in the academic world that consumed her non-horse filled hours, I looked forward to watching her chart her course through life. It was going to be a wonderful journey. And then the adventure was over. Cancelled by life itself.

So now I find myself driven to fill the space she left to be filled. We have started a scholarship in her memory, one that enables university students to travel to Africa to work in programs like the one she was involved in; we train the horses she helped us breed, we find them places to live where people will allow them to be what she would have wanted them to be. I will hand out how-to-vote material for the Greens at the next election, wearing her green t-shirt with pride.

It is not unusual for parents to be energised in new ways after the death of a child. It is the only way we can cope with the brutality of an event which has left us shattered. By rearranging the shards of what is left of the life we had, we can perhaps mirror the life that would have been. We are driven to make the child we had proud of us, to keep their hopes and dreams alive and leave their imprint on the world. Inspired by their absence, we strive to create a legacy for them. Without this purpose, our rebuilt lives would fall apart all over again, with the pieces left behind even more distorted and a whole harder to rebuild.

Read next: Allie on the Sand
Dorothy Henderosn
See all posts by Dorothy Henderosn