Art by Malini Parker

Ruby and the 1-page-8-page Sketchbook

Art by Malini Parker
I have a new obsession: creating tiny, 8 paged sketchbooks. Made from just one sheet of paper, folded four times and strategically snipped in one spot, I cannot claim to have invented this idea, but
I am entranced by the simplicity and the immediacy of it.  

So, instead of painting large works on wood or canvas as I would normally be doing, I lose myself in small, intricate, detailed pieces. They surprise me. I’m not accustomed to creating art on this reduced scale, with none of the textures and few of the motifs that generally come from my hands.

***

Ruby Dog, my sweet and loyal companion for the past five years, is ailing. Her health has been fading for some months. She is now completely blind and mostly deaf. In the past few weeks, her mobility and cognitions have declined very sharply indeed. Poor continence has also been added to the mix. I am grateful for medication and hormones, which have improved her continence and comfort. Nonetheless, the ebbs and flows and minutiae of her care preoccupy me. Not only heart-breaking, they are time-consuming and disruptive as well. 

But just recently, my heart and hands seem to have found a way to process the challenging transition that my beautiful dog is going through. Coloured significantly by Ruby’s decline, these tiny sketchbooks seem to capture life’s drama, complexity and uncertainty.

Even as I pick one up to add to it, I have no idea where my pen will go … just as I have no idea how I will tackle the uncertain days ahead. 

Caring for a dog in decline is a bit like caring for a beloved family member: with two essential differences. First, being a dog, she can’t vocalise her needs. It’s all guesswork. And secondly, her life and death … literally whether she lives or dies … is not up to the vagaries of Fate. It is up to me. I get to decide when to end her life. 

It is a horrifying responsibility.

They say the time to make The Decision is dependent on the animal’s quality of life. Well, her once agile, vigour-filled days are gone forever. She can neither see nor hear me and seems perplexed by the simplest of choices.

Where is my bed?

Do I sit on my sofa or on my bed? 

Is it here? (walking into the piano)

Clearly not. 

Wait.

What was I doing? 

I’ll just stand here for a bit. Maybe it will come to me. 

(she stands like a statue, facing a wall).

Oh-oh! I need to pee. 

Where do I do that?

Maybe I do that right here.

Oops. That didn’t feel right. 

I think I need a nap. 

Where’s my bed?

Sometimes I can relate to the conversations she appears to be having in her head. Fortunately, I haven’t started peeing on the living room floor. Yet.

***

Ruby was a dog that was SO disciplined, she ONLY went in the morning and evening, and never in my garden. My property is 3,300 sq m in size, so that’s a lot of land NOT to use as a toilet. Now the living room is fair game.

Her life has been reduced to two 3 minute walks for toileting and a great deal of excitement around mealtimes.  (I can relate. A little too much.)

And yet … even though her cognitions, continence and vigour are compromised, Ruby seems to be happy. She wags her tail when I pat her. Sometimes slipping down the stairs and tripping over nothing, she even wags her tail then. She still enjoys rides in the car, thoughtfully gazing out the window on a view she can no longer see.

As I guide her (for the tenth time today) away from a wall and back to her bed, I wonder how much worse she has to get before I am forced to make The Decision.


Ruby has been one of my anchors throughout the last few years. I rescued her from a lifetime of neglect and abuse when she was already six years old. It wasn’t long after my husband, Greg died. A month after getting her, the family dog, Layla died. Then my mum died. Then I moved house (twice). 

Through it all, Ruby was a constant, intuitive, quiet, strong, yet oh-so-sweet dog. She had that beautiful vulnerability often reported in rescued dogs. Grateful for the safe, loving haven I provided, she proceeded to rescue me right back.

She was my buddy as we learned to walk the rugged trails of my new home in the hills. Together we discovered gorgeous walks in the forest, both of us marvelling at the wonders of nature we perceived around us. Admittedly, hers was confined to seeking out other dogs’ pees, while mine took in the light through the trees or the droplets of water hanging off gum leaves.


After the terrible mistreatment she had received for most of her life, Ruby blossomed from an emaciated, anxious creature into a grateful, sweet companion. If I ran, she ran. If I walked, she walked. If she wandered too far ahead of me, a simple “slow down Ruby” would change her pace. I never had to teach her this, nor did I even use the same command each time. Mysteriously, she understood any version of that instruction.

She charmed my students in my studio as she gently greeted each one with a sniff and an enthusiastic tail wag. Her acute sense of hearing and deep bark made me feel safe at night. 

She thrived under the consistent, compassionate routine I gave her. And so did I.

Art Classes in Perth

Lately though … I confess to feeling more than a little worn out by the constant vigilance caring for another involves. Remembering those four years of being Greg’s carer in his cancer years, I am a little ashamed that this feels like Groundhog Day.

But who is to say when we have reached our ‘quota of caring’? Phrased in this way, the idea seems ludicrous. (And someday, I may need to be led back to my bed after accidentally peeing in the corner of the living room!)

***

I have learned a lot from this loyal, stoic dog. And she is continuing to teach me as she enters the last phase of her short life. Especially when I ask myself this question,

“IF this were happening for a higher purpose, what could that be?”

The answer is multi-layered: Polishing my Resilience. Reminding me of the fleeting nature of life. Practising Patience. Love. Kindness. Compassion. Being able to say goodbye and thank you, slowly and gently, to a small, trusting creature who has given me so much and asked for so little.

And then there’s the art: my new 1-page-8-page-tiny sketchbooks that are filling up with intricate, detailed work as she sleeps next to me. There’s something in the intense yet relaxed process of creating these pieces that both speaks to and dissipates the sorrow I feel around this transition.

It appears that Creativity is once more a light that is helping me navigate complex emotions and uncertain times.

Art by Malini Parker
***
Hi, I’m Malini, artist, writer and teacher.
Thank you for reading my story!
I’d love to meet you in my home studio
in Perth, Western Australia,
where we will make art together
amongst eucalyptus trees and bird-song!
More on my art + classes
www.maliniparker.com

Comments 30

    1. Post
      Author
  1. Mal, thanks for sharing your struggles with your struggles, if you know what I mean.
    I’m particularly grateful because you unpack what is happening with Ruby & in that unpacking you give me insight into unpacking my struggles. It then becomes easier to look at what’s happening in my life when I can see the unpacked components there before my eyes & clarity starts to come into focus.
    So, thanks Mal

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you Yvonne, that is really beautiful. I never looked at it that way. So appreciate your thoughts. x

    2. Mal, you continue to inspire and amaze me with your beautiful art and insights amidst the many adversities you have faced over your lifetime. I’ve been lucky enough to meet the gorgeous Ruby and she is such a treasure who will be with you in your heart forever. Our pets give us a love that no human can and making art is a greatly therapeutic way to process these significant times in life, which you have taught me.
      Xo Laura

  2. Mal, I’ve seen you go through all this, yet when you put it all down like this it is sooooo moving and has given me insights I never thought could be drawn from Ruby girl’s decline.

    And the art!!!!!

    1. Post
      Author

      She’s been such a gift to me, and I’ve gained so many insights from all the time I’ve had with her. And now, when it’s exhausting and sad, she’s still my teacher. Thank you for your kind words about my story and my art. xx

  3. Gosh Malini I feel your pain….not a decision anyone wants to make, trust your instinct you will know when it’s time. Not nice to have to watch anyone or any thing suffer….”sometimes you have to be “cruel” to be kind”. I have been through this with my beautiful Jack….yes it broke my heart but I managed to focus on all the love and fun we had, and the blessing we had…everyone has a start and a ending ….no one misses out!…..when it’s her time it’s her time! Sending lots of love xxx

    1. Post
      Author

      I’m so sorry you went through this with your Jack. I went through it all before with Layla, but it was clearer then, and she had lived a longer life. But I’m just letting things unfold now. Thank goodness for medication!

  4. Such beautiful writing, artwork and insights. Thank you Malini, for sharing your deeply personal, powerful, honest (and at times humorous) reflections. You have a wonderful way of reframing circumstances, revealing meaning through a lens that highlights so much insight and beauty in all of life’s transitions.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Chioni, thank you for noticing the humour cos it’s always my favourite part 🙂 Your kind words mean a lot to me. I haven’t written anything for some time because it’s been so consuming at home, but writing this has helped navigate this transition a little bit more easily.

  5. Malini, Sending you and Ruby love and hugs for this hard but beautiful time together, which you are both navigating with such Grace.

    1. Post
      Author

      Anika, thank you. Ruby is such a sweetie, it’s been truly awful at times having to go through this. But I’m thankful for Mary (and River’s!) help, and medication, and Ruby’s stoic adaptations to her disabilities.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you so much. Yes, Ruby is a sweet old lady, but not really that old, being only 11 this year, which for a Kelpie isn’t ancient. I guess her difficult life has hastened the decline. Glad you like my doodles 🙂 Acrylic paint pens dispense an intense colour so it’s really fun to play with them!

  6. What beautiful art and a beautiful thoughtful post. I love the colours and it somehow reminds me of indigenous art.
    As for Ruby such a blessing and a dilemma. Yes we get to choose and should we? I know at times I wished I could stop my Mum’s extreme distress, pain and confusion over the last 6 months. She asked me to so often. So hard to watch suffering and trust it has some meaning. “Thy Mercy hath strengthened me” I hope and pray. Sending you love and discernment over this time.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Margaret, thank you for your kind and warm responses. I’m delighted my sketchbooks remind you of the most ancient surviving art in the world! It makes me feel connected to something much bigger. As for Ruby, yours and everyone else’s kind words have certainly strengthened me. Much love ❤️

    1. Post
      Author
  7. You have been a devoted carer to your friend, Ruby, Mal. She is so lucky to have had you for this long, gifting you with the healing virtues along this journey. It is so so hard to know when to make “the decision”.
    What a lovely outcome that you are doing beautiful reflective tiny paintings while companioning Ruby.
    I found such comfort and healing while caring for our Mum, doing my little healing art while sitting with Kevin and me by the fire. I put love and intention into the shapes and she enjoyed discovering hidden images.

    1. Post
      Author

      Mum would have loved that! I can just see it happening. Art is such a powerful tool.

      Thank you for your kind words ♥️ I hope and pray I don’t ever have to make The Decision. X

  8. That is beautifully written Mal. You always capture things that others can’t in your words. There is a gentle pace to your writing that somehow relays deep emotions as well as a sense of eternal joy. I knew about Ruby’s declining health but hadn’t connected all the other dots…thank goodness for creativity in these times xx

    1. Post
      Author
  9. We all have different sad moments in our lives, but always reading your stories gives me so much strength, and your art is always beautiful and i love the fur babies too, they are so grateful and loyal, thank you for sharing, stay safe.

  10. Thank you for sharing Malini. Big love to both of you. Your message deeply touched me. I relate to the endless decades of caring for others. Somehow we are given the strength and courage to keep going. I’m so happy to see a new sort of art emerging for you during this time in your life. xo

  11. Hey Malini,
    Your existence seems to be entwined with art and compassion towards other souls- family, friends, animals, nature and random people who you meet through the amazing work you do. You have a subtle way of influencing people lives positively, I hope you are aware of your gift.
    I’m in constant awe of the simplicity and ease with which you can write such emotional journeys and many learn from your experiences of what life means. I’ll be forever grateful to have met you and the healing I got. Thanks to my physiotherapist.
    Until we meet again… and we will… take care and just be yourself ❤️

  12. Dear Malini, so very sorry to hear of the passing of Ruby. So very much loved and cherished. Please accept my sincere condolences. You are an inspiration with your calm resilience, those little books look devine. Take care Elaine

Leave a Reply to Jennifer Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *