I was recently given the responsibility to bring words of comfort during the homegoing celebration service for a young man who was a member of our church. When I prepared the message that I was going to share, I knew it would make a good topic of discussion for my column. Due to the fact that all of us will have to deal with the passing of a loved one at some point and time, the information that I shared with the family and friends then is very suitable for all of us. There are eight categories of birds that are symbolic of eight types of people and human behaviors that are demonstrated during times of bereavement. Let’s briefly consider each one and identify which category we belong to due to our attitude and behavior during times of bereavement.
The eagle is arguably the most majestic bird in nature. It is the symbol of our nation, as well as the bird who symbolizes the power and presence of God in many biblical references (see Exodus 19:4, Isaiah 40:31, and Revelation 12:14). During the time of bereavement, there are people who show up to represent God through their prayers and compassion. They are the eagles that grieving families can always depend upon. Regrettably, there are too few of these type of people and like the natural eagle that symbolizes them, they are an endangered species.
The dove is another bird that symbolic significance can be found in the scriptures (see Genesis 8:8-11, Psalm 55:6, and John 1:32). In our presentation, it is a symbol of the people who show up during times of bereavement to impart peace and comfort. Their presence during these somber and sad occasions is truly God-sent and therapeutic. Like the folk who are symbolized by the eagle, these doves are people who are being led by the Holy Spirit to minister comfort and peace to grief-stricken family members. Regrettably, like the eagles, they are too few in numbers.
The symbol of the owl is to represent certain individuals who show up during times of bereavement is one of my favorites. Such people are truly helpful and encouraging to families during times of bereavement. However, included in the number of helpful people during such times are people who are represented by a nocturnal bird of prey. In many cultures, and especially in Africa, Asia, and the Native American Indian culture, owls are a symbol of wisdom. Even the well-known Tootsie Roll candy commercial uses the owl as a symbol of wisdom to ask the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” I would like to believe that I have showed up during times of bereavement to give counsel, wisdom, and advice to the family or the individual(s) in charge of the funeral arrangements, matters of the deceased estate, and other relevant issues to assure that they are not being taken advantage of. Nevertheless, like the eagles and doves, these people are symbolized by the owl and are far too few in number.
There are categories of people who are symbolized by the hummingbird. Due to the fact that this bird is very minute in size and displays elusive behavior in the wild, this bird is extremely difficult to spot. I cannot even remember the last time I saw a hummingbird. I believe all of us have people in our family who have the characteristics of a hummingbird in regards to this matter we are considering. They are people who live very detached and solitary lives. These recluses will only show up when they need you or during times of bereavement.
Turkeys are Native American birds. They have played a very vital role in American history as an abundant food source to Native Americans, as well as the early settlers who came from Europe. So much so that the Founding Father Benjamin Franklin argued that it should be our national symbol and bird. Aren’t you glad that he was out voted by other Founding Fathers who obviously had greater foresight than he about our destiny as a nation? Can you imagine the turkey being the national symbol displayed on our currency? One of the figurative definitions of the world “turkey” in most reliable dictionaries is: “A stupid, foolish, or inept person.” It gives me no joy to say this, but it is a great probability that whenever and wherever there is a gathering due to the passing of someone, you can almost always anticipate some turkeys showing up with their absurd and clownish ways.
Almost every family will have a few people who show up during times of bereavement who fit into the peacock category. One of the figurative definitions of a peacock is: “One who makes a proud display of himself; a show-off.” I know of some peacocks who love to show-off their clothes and cars at funerals. I have noticed that some will deliberately park their fancy cars in a very conspicuous place, even though they are not members of the family. After dealing with families and bereavement for many years, I have come to expect to see a few peacocks who will show up with an attitude of conceit and pride as if they are better and superior to everyone else.
Now, I do not want you Carolina fans to get upset with me, but the gamecock also symbolizes a category of people who will show up during times of bereavement. These people are family members who want to fight over the deceased individual’s money, property, and even funeral arrangements. It is very shameful and not at all unusual to see family members fussing and jockeying for positions at funerals regarding who is going to come in first during the processional. These are the fighting gamecocks, not of Carolina, but of feuding family members.
No other bird, which we have considered, that shows up during times of bereavement is as commonly associated with death than the buzzard. This scavenger bird feeds of dead carcasses. The buzzard is symbolic of the most common of the people, whether family or friends, who love hanging out where someone has died. They live for such times and show up to feast off of whatever they can get that is free (i.e. food, liquor, and even shelter, if you allow them to spend the night). Buzzards are not a selective or proud people. They settle for whatever freebie or handout they can get at the place of gathering during bereavement time.