In 2012, my current caregiving client Muriel, the drama queen extraordinaire (and she knew it), was nearing the end of her earthly form existence. Exasperated and feeling hopeless from the lack of support shown by her two sons, both in their early 60’s, she exclaimed.
“Michael, go talk to Jack about the helium!” It was a downright commandment from the feisty Old Girl.
Muriel had surely lost it, ‘helium?!’ I thought. I politely giggled to myself, the faint sound of muffled chuckling and my ridiculous smile gave me away though.
“Michael, I’m serious.” Muriel looked at me shaking her head back and forth. “I mean it! Go talk to Jack. Here’s his number.” She handed me a piece of paper. “He will tell you all about it.” (Muriel did not use helium).
The next day, after a short phone call introducing myself, Jack enthusiastically received me for a visit. When I arrived at the Garfield Park Retirement Community off of Bay Ave on the Westside of Santa Cruz, I came to the sliding glass back door. The entrance I would always use. Peering through the glass I noticed a man in a reclining chair as I knocked against the slider. Jack, was just about to turn eighty-nine, but you wouldn’t know it based on his fleet-footedness. In seconds he had the slider opened and warmly greeted me with a piercing presence.
With those charismatic eyes, that hallmark intensity, Jack was surely hooked up to a potent source. The first thing I noticed about Jack’s pad, as I took in his space, was a small 5-7 index card tacked on the wall opposite his recliner chair, which read:
“Do not meditate – be!
Do not think that you are – be!
Don’t think about being – you are!”
Instantly I recognized the quote and knew it came from the sage Ramana Maharshi. I pointed to the wall:
“Ramana!” Jack’s face lit up and soon we were discussing Non-dual spirituality with great vigor. The original reason I had come was now obsolete, for authentic companionship and Reality was the ‘real’ reason. Jack and I became instant soul friends; kindred spirits who could understand each other with ease; intuitively our connection allowed one another to fill in missing words, connect shared insights, all the while- just as easily- relaxing into the space between the words: silence.
Our main course never deterred; that first visit was no exception: It was Advaita-Vedanta—the purest, most direct spiritual teachings of India. Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj were the two Giants pointing the way Home, to a place that was closer than our breath, more intimate than our heartbeats and inside our very own Self. The energy current of these beings, their piercing wisdom, were elixirs that ran through every single one of the hundred plus meetings Jack and I had over a four year span.
An appetizer discussion, which occurred just as often, was NDE’s or Near-Death Experience. These accounts which Jack pulled mostly from memory were sprinkled forth along with tidbits of quantum physics. Jack had been able to bring cohesion into these three spacious fields: (Advaita Vedanta, NDE’s and Quantum Physics). All of these transcendent philosophies were clear and direct pointers to our eternal nature as Spirit and Jack and I reveled in THAT.
Our discourses were always lively and deep. After an hour or more of sharing, Jack and I might suddenly be stopped ‘dead in our tracks’ by the profound wisdom we were sharing with each other. Light chuckles, a humbling infusion would follow; then, we would shake our heads in awe. With Jack, the silent power behind the words he spoke struck me like the boom from a cannon that never stopped searching for its target.
Soon dessert would arrive: Assisted suicide or as we both preferred, Dying with Dignity or Self-Deliverance. Jack had been a member of the Hemlock society. I knew the general theme of that group but had never realized that a system had been devised to allow someone to so easily take charge at the end of life. Helium tanks, (those used and until recently easily purchased at toy store as a party balloon device), were the easiest, cheapest and most simple way to ‘deliver’ oneself on their own terms.
Always when I listened to Jack talk, my eyes were riveted on him like a bolt to a ship. I could not even think a thought. Jack spoke with a fiercely practical, often scientific enthusiasm. Hidden underneath, not easily seen sometimes, was a beautiful sensitivity and deep compassion. If my awareness began to drift at all while listening to Jack, his face would begin to turn red and his eyes would emit a laser-like current that would not allow me to drift into thought. This was not a conscious action but simply a unique aspect of our communion.
On that first visit, Jack told me about the several ‘Self-Deliverance’ opportunities he had witnessed. One account included a woman, diagnosed with a debilitating disease, ALS I think it was. She did not want to go through the ghastly pain and agony of a slow demise which would end in her being totally incapacitated, hooked up to oxygen but still unable to breath because her lungs were filling with fluid. So instead this woman, before she became utterly incapacitated, decided to use a helium tank. She invited other Hemlock members to her home. She put on her helium hood (to isolate the helium) and turned on the gas. A few moments after turning the valve on, she looked out her window and said:
“Oh look! The bird has returned to its nest….” Those were her last words. She then passed out, painlessly unconscious, as the helium gas took up oxygen receptor sites in her brain, lungs and body systems. Minutes later she was physiologically dead.
In the final decade of Jack’s life, he began to share his limited income with many other people through the use of what he called: “Stipends.” Jack has been giving away about 30-40 percent of his income to those in financial need. He told me more than once: “What am I going to do with it. My daughters have what they need. I just need these basic items taken care of and the rest can be of some help to others.”
One time Jack showed me a copy of a Vedanta text stating his reason for giving away the money. It was this altruistic and yet simple paragraph that symbolized the free-spirited way in which Jack lived.
Jack was grateful and knew that his long life afforded him extra time to share intimacy with his daughters and grandson while going deep into spirituality in the many ways I have mentioned. Jack did not leave out the relative sphere, however, the practical necessity of day to day survival needs.
I would do anything for Jack and he knew this but he was so independent that I was not able to do as much as I would have liked.
We did not talk much about my 8 year journey of chronic illness which began in 2008 but when we did discuss this, Jack listened with the same intensity, turned into fierce compassion, while asking important questions and deeply considering my situation from alternative perspectives.
Then one day about two years ago, the stipend changed and Jack decided that he would give it to me as I was doing my best to help my former partner and dear friend Aleece. So in the last two years of Jack’s life, his stipend moved on to Aleece – who did not have a place to live. Jack’s stipend paid her bare rent, a small trailer on some horse property. Aleece returned this gift to Jack, coming over about once every two months and pouring her heart onto Jack. Jack loved Aleece and she was able to touch Jack’s heart in a very unique way as they both shared a deep spiritual understanding. Jack often remarked that he had not met anyone like her.
It was always obvious that no doctor or organization was going to force Jack Selk into a hospital bed or hook him up to IV tubes. No way were they going to take away his independence while extracting his final resources under false pretenses related to extending life at all costs. Jack was not going to be the type to be pushed around in a wheelchair either.
Jack was adamant that helium should be available to use by anyone of sound mind who wished to end their life before undergoing unbearable pain and suffering or simply because their independence was being forced from them. And Jack’s death was a shining example of that.
He was lucid, clear and brilliant as always but over the last 6 months prior to his conscious transition, since his move to a new retirement community, La Posada, (which provided meals as Jack loathed cooking) Jack had been slowly losing interest in worldly things—even more than his regular detachment. His physical body had begun a fairly rapid decline. He was no longer able to ride his bicycle, which he had always used for appointments or grocery shopping. (One time I secretly followed him just to watch him ride his bike, much like one would watch an infant play). Jack’s usual steadiness afoot had turned into a warble. Falls had begun to happen in the last 2 months–one taking down a book shelf near his recliner and one by the shower caused some severely bruised ribs requiring a course of tylenol-codeine. Throw in a few periods of incontinence and Jack was losing too many faculties–at least for him.
Jack died like he lived, fearlessly. He was fixed on source and his doubts had been removed about what we really are and that this ‘so-called’ life is just a phase of Consciousness. He had read thousands upon thousands of near death experiences over the last 40 plus years. From his deep spiritual search, conviction grew and expanded into Certainty.
Jack is a shining light that was focused into and appeared as form but was never that form. Our physical eyes deceive us for if we are looking out through the veil of mind we confuse what is utterly simple: the living spirit that animates us all.
For some reason, only a celebratory energy is here, a joy. Jack would not shed a tear over my form passing. It was not his style. As one who had been known to shed a few tears on the melancholy, I find myself infused instead with the Certainty that Jack is as he always was. I rejoice in Life Eternal. Now, finally a single tear falls. Pure joy celebrating the living essence that played as Jack and will never leave my heart. No bodily death could veil our soul connection. (Besides, Jack and I have discussed in the last months a plan to meet in Norway, if as he said: “We are forced to come back here.”).
As Ramana Maharshi once said about his impending so-called death:
“They say I am leaving but where could I go?! I am here.”
So it is with Jack, he is truly alive. My heart bursts with great delight in our continued communion.
(Michael, Jack and Aleece at La Posada January 2016)