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Kitzmann column: Author sheds light on dying saying goodbye

With spring here (theoretically anyway) schoolwork has been getting rather tiresome, so when my mother asked me last Tuesday if I would be interested in witnessing a forensic pathologist, Dr. Janis Amatuzio, talk about her profession, I happily said yes.

It was only after I agreed to this that my mother told me what the work of a forensic pathologist actually consists of -- performing autopsies and from doing so determining various information about the ways in which particular people died.

I must confess that my immediate reaction to this revelation was not dread, reluctance, or even the slightest apprehension to seeing something so morbid as a person talking about the deceased. No, I was delighted by the prospect, because I seemed to have had the notion that I would not only get to hear a person discuss (hopefully, in great detail) her job of picking apart carcasses, but also see a live demonstration of a typical day in the morgue.

I could hardly wait for this opportunity of a lifetime, and made a mental note to get front-row seats, where the view is better and the odds of getting picked as a "volunteer" are much higher.

When I arrived, and saw that there was no evidence of a public autopsy, I was rather discouraged. "Are you sure we're at the right event?" I remember asking my mother as we sat down. "Yes, why do you ask?" she replied. I was too embarrassed to answer, and I spent the remaining time before the presentation absorbing my surroundings.

I took notice of several people whom I knew, one of them who would afterward suggest the topic to this column. Finally, after a brief wait, and an opening performance by a pianist, which was excellent, by the way, the main speaker, Dr. Amatuzio, ascended the podium and began her presentation.

As she began talking, it occurred to me that, though there were not any abandoned bodies open for public viewing, it was well worth my time to attend this event. In fact, very little of the speech was actually about her occupation as a coroner at all, which somewhat surprised me. Rather, the majority of Dr. Amatuzio's talk was about a pattern that she has seen in her long career as a forensic pathologist.

On countless occasions, she has had patients (well, patients' families; her patients are dead) tell her stories in which individuals who are dying manage to communicate with their living families, the most common message being conciliatory and to the effect that "I am fine."

One may try to brush these stories off, rationalizing that they were simply hallucinating in their time of grief, which is certainly feasible, except for the fact that some of the visions appeared to friends that hadn't seen the deceased in years, and hadn't even heard of the death.

I am also open-minded to the possibility that God in his love allows the deceased a chance to let their friends and family know that they are fine and in a better place before entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Of the entire presentation, which was on the whole extremely intriguing and informative, the most shocking part was near the end, when Dr. Amatuzio asked everyone who had had at least one experience in which a friend or family member brought them solace, post-mortem, to raise their hand.

Almost everybody did. This not only astounded, but also moved me, and I was instantly convinced that, hallucination or reality, these experiences have happened to many people. It also brought home one of Dr. Amatuzio's main points: that "we already know this stuff," and need to trust ourselves. She also stresses that we are all connected, and to be kind to ourselves and to others.

It occurred to me, through the innumerable stories of this nature that Dr. Amatuzio shared with us, that these visions are consistently beneficial and helpful to the people who have them. And on some level, people must feel extremely honored to have these visits and the memories that go with them to carry them through the rest of their lives.

After the presentation ended, I got up, noticed that the book-signing line (Dr. Amatuzio has written two books), was quite long, and made a bee-line to the refreshment stand, where delectable delights sat waiting for me to devour them. Noticing a couple of minutes later that the book-signing line had subsided to a few people, I ambled over and joined the procession.

I hope you will take the time to try to read one, if not both of her books. I will end this column with a quote from her latest, "Beyond Knowing," which I feel summarizes Dr. Amatuzio's cause quite well: "You are more than you know, and you are more than your body. Care for all aspects of yourself. Care for all others as well. Be care-full. Be generous and humble. What you do for another, you do for yourself."

Nathan Kitzmann is a freshman and is homeschooled.