• Neva Bryan

Buzzards are useful


A group of circling buzzards is called a “kettle” because they resemble bubbles rising in a pot of boiling water.

I recall a Sunday afternoon when Mom and I traveled along some back road in Southwest Virginia. It was a winding road, like most of them around here are, and when we rounded a curve, we came upon a group of turkey vultures (what some of us call buzzards) feasting on the carcass of a dead deer.


“That’s disgusting,” I said. “What was God thinking when he made buzzards?”


Without missing a beat, Mom replied, “Buzzards are useful.”


I laughed, then asked her what she meant. She told me to imagine how crowded with dead animals the earth would be if there were no buzzards.


She made a good point.


Later I researched turkey vultures and found them referred to as nature’s clean-up crew. They curtail the spread of bacteria by feeding on carrion.


The scientific name of turkey vultures is Cathartes aura. When I looked up the meaning of that, I discovered that “cathartes” is a Greek word that essentially means “purifier.” Indeed, buzzards are useful.


Lately, I started thinking about how grief is like a buzzard. It’s ugly, but it’s useful.


Remember that grief is useful. Make it work for you.

When we suffer a significant loss, we need to acknowledge it. That process includes examining our feelings and expressing them in a way that makes sense to us.


Unfortunately, there is a social stigma attached to grieving.


Sometimes we feel inhibited in sharing our feelings about the loss of a loved one to other people. We’re afraid we’ll make them feel uncomfortable or awkward.


Or maybe we think we can’t grieve in public because it seems like the people around us have imposed a deadline on our grief. “Like, it’s been five years. Why are you still talking about it?”


The fact is, if we’re not allowed to grieve in our way, in our own time, we suffer for it. We may become numb to our own emotions. We may not be able to cultivate new or existing relationships. The suppression of grief can manifest itself in physical illness.


Grief is cathartic. It allows us to purge those terrible feelings that occur when we lose someone we love. Sadness. Anger. Resentment. Relief. Guilt. Regret. I think of grief as a way to purify the soul.


So grief has its place in the grand scheme of things, just like buzzards do.


Did you know scientists observed a buzzard that lived to be sixteen years old? Grief can last that long, and longer. Don’t let anyone impose a time limit on your grieving process.


Remember that grief is useful. Make it work for you.


Fun fact: a group of circling buzzards is called a “kettle” because they resemble bubbles rising in a pot of boiling water.

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