Janis Amatuzio, M.D. presents "Immortal Patterns in the Rhythm of Life" from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Edge Life Expo. Advance tickets are $20 thru 11/2, and $22 at the door. Visit uptowntix or call (612) 604-4466. Complete expo details are at www.edgelifeexpo.com
Janis Amatuzio, M.D., was the daughter of a family practice doctor who made house calls. She was a witness of compassion in action, and in her chosen practice of forensic medicine, she has become known as the "compassionate coroner" for the care she not only gives the memories of the dead but the way she relates to the living.
Author of Forever Ours: Real Stories of Immortality and Living from a Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Amatuzio shares heart-felt stories from her journey in medicine. She is an internationally recognized authority in forensic medicine, served as President of the Minnesota Coroners and Medical Examiners Association and has developed many courses on such topics as death investigation, forensic nursing, and forensic medicine in mortuary science. She speaks widely on these subjects and is becoming nationally recognized for her signature lecture, Beyond the Threshold of Death: A Forensic Pathologist’s Perspective on Living.
"As a physician, forensic pathologist and coroner for several Minnesota counties, I have had the extraordinary privilege of caring for families and their loved ones when death comes suddenly, unexpectedly, or traumatically," she writes on her website, www.foreverours.com. "My job is to speak for the dead, to solve the mystery of ‘what happened?’ I have occasionally, however, been faced with mysteries I cannot solve or explain. These experiences always baffle me, partly because as a scientist, I seek to reach a reasonable degree of medical certainty, a rational explanation. But I have come to realize that for some experiences there is no explanation, just a deep knowing that I have encountered the Divine."
As keynote speaker at Edge Life Expo 2005, Dr. Amatuzio will share insights on how to become familiar with the meaningful experiences of dreams, visions and synchronous events after the death of a loved one, how to recognize the ability of synchronous or extraordinary experiences to heal, the importance of developing the confidence to trust our own intuition to make meaning, and the value of using extraordinary experiences as tools for living, richer, more meaningful lives.
She shared her thoughts about her work, and about her upcoming keynote address at Edge Life Expo 2005, with us.
Your book, Forever Ours, opens with experiences with dying patients when you were a medical student. How did those experiences affect you as a person – and on your perspective of medicine and becoming a doctor?
Dr. Janis Amatuzio: In the beginning of my career I felt that every death was a failure; both a failure of modern medicine and a failure of its practitioners. I guess from my early perspective, the death of a patient was devastating.
Perhaps, as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen wrote, "We had been taught the mastery of medicine, not the mystery." My internship was one of the hardest years of my life.
You share stories of patients who experienced near-death experiences. What was your personal opinion of such experiences at the time and has your perspective of them changed over the years?
Dr. Amatuzio: As I look back, I realize that when I first heard these stories, the scientific side of me thought they were odd and wanted to dismiss them. However, another side of me was secretly delighted and hoped beyond hope that they were true. As time has passed and with the publication of my book, Forever Ours, along with the literally hundreds of thank you notes I’ve received, I have come to a place of knowing. Knowing that we are not just our bodies and that in this magnificent and stunning universe anything at all is possible.
Why did you choose to specialize in forensics rather than patient care like your dad, who would make house calls as a family physician, and how has it changed you as a person?
Dr. Amatuzio: My father urged me to take an elective rotation in pathology during my last year of medical school. He had always been fascinated with pathology and referred to them (pathologists) as the doctor’s doctor and pathology as the basis of medicine. Forensic pathology was absolutely fascinating to me.
I have a sense that we don’t choose our specialty, it chooses us. That was true with me when I first experienced forensic pathology as a medical student and I knew that it was my chosen field. Because I missed the patient contact, I began making phone calls to families on non-criminal cases. My longing for patient contact found its way out through that path.
What has your experience as a doctor taught you about death – and more importantly, about living?
Dr. Amatuzio: That is an enormous question. I learned that death investigation is really life investigation and I have begun to see that what Thomas Jefferson said is true, "As a man thinks so he is." I can now see the consequences of our choices.
For example, whether we choose to smoke or not; whether we exercise regularly or eat healthy foods; whether we take drugs and/or drink alcohol and drive. All of these things have consequences, both good and bad. It has made me live more consciously, more deliberately, and hopefully, to choose better for myself and the people I live and work with.
I’ve also come to believe that I have had it all wrong. As Eckhart Tolle writes in his beautiful book, Stillness Speaks, "Death is not the opposite of life, life has no equal. Death is the opposite of birth."
To what do you attribute the recent interest in forensic science in such popular television programs as CSI, Forensic Files and Crossing Jordan, and how well do they represent the truth?
Dr. Amatuzio: Forensic science in and of itself is fascinating, because it teaches us about the ways that people live and the results of their decisions. However, I’ve begun to think that perhaps it is a metaphor for a deeper search for meaning.
As a death investigator we answer the question, "What happened?" and try to explain that to the next-of-kin, the physicians and the courts. However, I have a sense that because we have been asking these questions through so many different venues on television and in the movies, perhaps collectively we are beginning to ask not what happened, but what happens next?
Death investigators also ask the question, "Who are you?" in an attempt to make a positive identification. Perhaps, maybe in a sense, we are beginning to look ourselves in the mirror and ask "Who are we really?"
How well do these programs represent the truth? Well, these programs have done a great service to practicing forensic pathologists, medical examiners, and coroners. In essence, they have raised public expectations. The public does realize the latitude television producers take when presenting a plot in 60 minutes or less, but most importantly these programs represent the evolution of forensic medicine as a subspecialty and have accelerated the onset of standards for scientific death investigation.
Despite the fact that most people fear death above all else, some of us seem fascinated with death, and yearn to understand why people kill other people. Why is this?
Dr. Amatuzio: Perhaps the fascination is for us to find better ways to resolve conflict. Perhaps it is to help us teach our children how to work with one another peacefully and harmoniously. But then again, it was Albert Einstein who wrote, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious." I have a sense the greatest mystery is what happens next.
I understand you were featured in a documentary series on women serial killers on the Discovery channel. What perspective did you share as part of this program?
Dr. Amatuzio: The Discovery channel program, "Women Who Kill," was a documentary about women who used different methods to poison or kill. The documentary takes us back several centuries and gives us a perspective over the years of how methods were used. My role in this was to help support the historical accounts with modern forensic science.
Why did you write Forever Ours and what did you learn about yourself in the process of writing it?
Dr. Amatuzio: I originally wrote this book to comfort others, but found out that I wrote it to comfort myself.
Being a practitioner of forensic pathology, we often see the grime and brutal results of a person’s action upon one another or upon themselves. The process of writing Forever Ours helped me to remember who we really are and that, just perhaps, death is not the end. Moreover, it has helped me think more clearly about living and the importance of creating joy and harmony along the way.
Your book is a compassionate and intimate look at life and death, told in stories that touch our heart. What did you want to leave the reader with as a general message?
Dr. Amatuzio: I would like our readers to follow their own intuition. I present these stories as offerings. I would like the readers to listen to their own hearts.
That said, for me, I would hope readers might begin to wonder or dream about the fact that just maybe we are not our bodies alone. That perhaps what lasts is our essence, our being and our thoughts. And that in some way, which we may not see clearly now, life is perfectly safe and we are a part of the divine whole.
At Edge Life Expo 2005, you will be presenting the keynote address, "Immortal Patterns in the Rhythm of Life." Why did you choose this topic and what can those who attend expect to experience?
Dr. Amatuzio: I’ve begun to look at the patterns and themes that have been presented to me by the experiences that the families have told me about – patterns of truth, reassurance, wonder and beauty. I chose this topic because the greatest gift the dead can give us is the courage to live fully and love well.
My hope is that those who attend the lecture will come away with a new perspective which will help their lives become happier, to help heal their hearts, and laugh with the joy of being fully alive.
As we watch the bodies in the Louisiana floodwater, and the deaths piling up in Iraq, and the destruction of the Tsunami in Indonesia, it is hard not to be overcome with sadness. How do you respond or what suggestions do you have for others?
Dr. Amatuzio: My most urgent suggestion is that it is truly time for us to think differently. It is time for us to begin to observe and realize what works in our lives.
The masters have all told us to fear not. It seems to me it is time for us to embrace one another, accept our differences, treat one another with respect and compassion, and choose that which affirms life, as opposed to choosing that which results in violence.
It’s time for us to begin to treat ourselves, our neighbors and friends, and our community, as well as our earth, with both compassion and wisdom. It has been said that peace in the world begins with peace in the hearts of the people. I feel more than anything else that this is a time for us to wake up, because collectively we have the wisdom to create heaven on earth.
Thank you very much for your time in speaking with us. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
Dr. Amatuzio: My greatest appreciation for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and words, the privilege of being able to speak with our listeners, and my message that this is a time of our transformation and great awakening.
My hope is that we will begin to find peace within, and as St. Teresa says in her prayer, "May today there be peace within. May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God."
Let this presence settle into our bones and allow your soul freedom to sing, dance, and love.
For more information on Janis Amatuzio, M.D., and her book Forever Ours, visit www.foreverours.com