About a year and a half ago, I wrote this essay called The Saga of Quinn Fitzgerald. At the time I wanted to capture a sense of his spirit before the illness that he had developed took it away. What I didn’t know was that the way that he lived the last eighteen months of his life would turn out to be just as extraordinary as his earlier life had been.
Lymphoma robs its victims of energy and Fitz also developed cataracts that deprived him of most of his sight. The treatment that we selected for him was to use steroids to keep him comfortable and then let nature take its course. The steroids gave him a huge appetite and thirst. He accepted this new condition with the same enthusiasm that he showed for everything else that he wanted. It has been a long time since I have eaten a piece of toast or a bagel without sharing it with Fitzgerald. If I made a sandwich, it became necessary to add a couple of slices or meat of cheese for him to have. Of course he gobbled them down and then waited patiently, or not so patiently, to have some of my sandwich.
I would have never thought that I would compare Carlos Castaneda and Quinn Fitzgerald but here goes.
“If a dying warrior has limited power, his dance is short; if his power is grandiose, his dance is magnificent. But regardless of whether his power is small or magnificent, death must stop to witness his last stand on earth. Death cannot overtake the warrior who is recounting the toil of his life for the last time until he has finished his dance”
Fitz rose slowly to his feet and I got up and grabbed a leash so that I could steady him. The look on his face was more than a little disdainful and he refused to move when I attached the leash to his collar. When I took it away, he slowly walked out of his door and onto the porch. I watched from the window.
He had not ventured off of the solid even surface of the porch in quite a while. I felt fear as he walked into the remains of this year’s garden. I take the temporary fence down and pull out what is left of the vegetable garden annually. It is one of his happiest times. He loves the smells and the tastes of what the fence has walled off for a time.
I watched him slowly make his way in and sniff and once he licked the ground. I don’t know why. Then he turned and made his way to the willow tree under which he had taken many an afternoon nap. In earlier times. I threw the Frisbee so that it just touched the edge of a tendril of the tree. He gloried in those catches, leaping into the air with abandon and success.
He sniffed around the well-developed roots of the tree. He did not turn back towards the window from which I watched. Then he slowly ambled to the flowering plum tree. It was planted at the same time as the willow and had the same nightly irrigation, which he was always there to witness. Slowly, he rubbed along the bark of the tree. And then he came down to the false front of his home.
My house has no driveway in the front. There is no way except traipsing across my front lawn that one can access the front door. People arrive at the gravel driveway in the rear of the house, where the barn is. Fitz and I had first played catch with the Frisbee at this spot in the front. The way that I taught him to catch was right here and he caressed the grass with his muzzle and I cried.
There is a small incline back up and he took it very slowly and curled around the outside of a berry shrub. I used to marvel at the dexterity with which he leapt back onto the porch but now I feared that area in the front. Curling around was the longer and safer route. He moved slowly but safely made his way back onto the porch and through the door. He never really walked again.
The steps were both painful and necessary to him. This place had been his world and he knew that he would not visit again. The rest of his life, less than a day, was spent lying on the floor where he was stroked and kissed as his organs shut down. It was a good death. The sadness in its wake is a testament to his life of life and what he inspired.
I wanted to write this in order to communicate my sense of awe at the way that he was able to adjust and more than adjust. It was his ability to adjust with joy and enthusiasm that I admired. He was always a puppy, for his whole life, always a little boy and yet his love of living and his devotion to the brief time that he had was total and complete.
I know that we all have our stories of our pets. I know that my last real image of him is sprawled on the wooden living room floor looking up at me with impaired sight and expressing a “what the fuck is happening” expression. I think it may be that way for us all at the end. But maybe just for a few.
These last days, I have disassembled the accommodations that we’d made for him. Their absence creates an emptiness, but I know that this void is not him but my feeling of loss at not having him. Maybe all grief is like that.
I will gain some comfort by mixing some of his ashes with the ashes of his brother and placing them under the root ball of a new tree. I know that this is for me and not for him.