An interview with Sharon Taylor
Q: What attracted you to hospice work?
Sharon: When I first started in nursing in 1969 I worked in an intensive care unit but left after a year because I had such a hard time dealing with people dying. This was before I was on the spiritual path and I had a lot of fear around death.
But I always wanted to do this kind of work. I felt that there was something here for me to learn.
Three years ago, for financial reasons, I needed to work outside Ananda Village and a hospice job opened up. After 20 years on the spiritual path, I felt that I could handle the challenge of working with the dying.
The guru’s presence
Q: Did your background in meditation and yoga made a difference in how you responded to people dying?
Sharon: A huge difference. Meditation has helped me overcome many fears. As it says in Autobiography of a Yogi, “even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings.” I had learned, also, to “practice the presence,” and I knew that everything in my life improved when I brought God and guru into what I was doing.
So when driving to see a patient, I would pray deeply to Yogananda and ask him to go before me and calm the way. Then, before going into a patient’s home I would stop and try to feel Yogananda’s presence. Often, I would meditate in my car for a few minutes to become more interiorized and uplifted.
As long as I could feel Yogananda’s presence, I was able to bring a positive energy to the situation no matter how challenging things were. Then I felt I had something to give.
Q: Did you notice any changes in the people you were trying to help?
Sharon: People seemed to be comforted. Some would say, “Gosh, you know, just your being here makes me feel much calmer or more comfortable.” But I knew it wasn’t me they were feeling. What they were feeling was Yogananda’s presence, his energy.
Interestingly, a situation would often improve even before I arrived. Sometimes I would receive a call saying that the family was in a panic, or that the situation had become chaotic — and I would take off immediately. On the way I would pray and do Kriyas while driving. By the time I got there the situation was calmer.
Fear of dying
Q: Do you frequently encounter negative emotions about death — emotions such as fear and anger?
Sharon: I’ve learned that most people, as they approach death, have some fear simply because they’re going into the unknown. Even people who are spiritual and have deep faith in God often have to deal with fear.
But a lot of people are afraid because they believe they haven’t lived very good lives. They may be afraid that they’ll go to hell. Sometimes they’ve turned away from God and now that they’re dying, they want to turn back, but are afraid that God won’t accept them. As death approaches, many people go through spiritual crises. They have difficulty accessing the strength and comfort they need to approach death calmly.
Q: And in what ways have you been able to help people with their fear and anger?
Sharon: I try to offer a picture of God who’s not vengeful, who loves us unconditionally, and who is always forgiving. Just recently I was helping a man who was really terrified. He’d been a devout Catholic, but when his son died in a military accident, he turned away from the church. In his mind, he had turned away from God, and so he had quite a bit of fear about dying.
I talked to him about God being a God of love and forgiveness. Eventually he reached a point where he was more peaceful about dying, feeling he hadn’t done so badly after all.
Q: What about anger? Have you been able to help people let go of those emotions?
Sharon: A hospice nurse always tries to relieve pain and make the patient comfortable. When you do that, people then usually have enough energy to deal with their anger, which usually involves forgiving themselves and others. I’ve seen beautiful healings between family members as a person approaches death.
“I am the doer!”
Q: You and I were talking earlier about a crisis in your hospice work that resulted in your becoming ill. You said that from the illness you learned that you had become over-confident about working with the dying. Can you explain how that happened?
Sharon: After about two years in hospice I reached a point where I felt I could handle most situations — and I actually said that to my husband. I didn’t realize what a dangerous statement that was!
What I was really saying was “I am the doer.” I was taking all the credit for helping my patients and improving their situations. And I had become so confident that I wasn’t praying nearly as much or tuning into Yogananda’s presence.
The result was that the daily exposure to the pain and suffering of dying began to weigh on me. It became a burden that I carried and that eventually manifested in my body as illness.
When I was regularly tuning into Yogananda and could feel him flowing through me, I could always see the “perfection” in what was happening whenever my patients were close to dying. I would hold onto the thought that my patients were simply leaving one house and entering another — that soon they would be in the Light, and that everything would be fine. And I would be at peace about it.
The higher Self, not the ego
Q: You’ve been off work for a few months, but as you prepare to go back, do you have any plans for how you will approach your hospice work?
Sharon: Hand in hand with Yogananda! I pray that I never again lose sight of who the doer is. If I can approach each patient with Yogananda’s presence in my heart, then I feel I have something to give.
A Buddhist who worked in a hospice house in San Francisco said that the most important medicine we bring to the patient is ourselves. By that he meant our higher self, not the ego.
Q: Do you have any ideas about how you can bring more of your higher self to your patients?
Sharon: For me the most important key is meditating twice a day, without fail. Also, praying before each visit for guidance and to be a channel to bring peace to the situation, always keeps me in my center. I also plan to do a private astral ascension ceremony for my patients when they pass on, to help them on their way— and to help me release them into the Light.
I feel very blessed to be able to do this work. You walk into people’s lives during one of their most intimate experiences and they share it with you. There are many times of laughter and many beautiful moments. It’s a wonderful way to serve God and guru.