Warning: This poem contains intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes Hali's birthday, Cas grieving over Evie's death, angel-human relationships, foster care trauma, abandonment issues, poverty, medical and other neglect by programs for teen parents, previous traumatic loss due to death in childbirth, self-blame, insecurity, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Brief Bright Flames"
[Thursday, March 10, 2016]
Boss Blaster bounded down
the steps to the basement,
eager to show off his prize.
He had just gotten hold of
Hali's birthday present, which
he had commissioned weeks ago.
The tiny vest was knitted in
lighter and darker pink, with
flowers and a ladybug on it.
The shoulders fastened with
ladybug buttons so Hali could
step into it like a skirt, instead of
having to wrestle it over her wings.
"Hey Cas, look what came in time!"
Boss Blaster said, waving the vest.
Cas turned around, hastily wiping
a hand across his face. "Hey."
Instantly Boss Blaster switched
tracks, setting the vest on the table.
"Did something go wrong? Is there
a problem with Hali's party plans?"
"No, no, it's just --" Cas sniffled.
"Today is a hard day for me."
"Why would -- oh, Cas, I forgot,
I'm so sorry," said Boss Blaster.
Hali's mother had died in childbirth,
which made Hali's birthday also
the anniversary of Evie's death.
No wonder poor Cas was a wreck.
"Do you need me to take over?"
Boss Blaster asked gently.
"No, Hali needs me," Cas said.
"I can't just bail because I'm sad."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Boss Blaster said. "Or Evie?"
Cas shook his head. "Not really.
"I didn't -- I didn't even know
that Hali was a possibility.
I thought my mom was just
blowing smoke and all."
"About your father?"
Boss Blaster said. "You
don't talk much about
the rest of your family."
"There isn't much to say."
Cas shrugged. "I wasn't
always with my birth mother
because she's kind of a flake.
She used to say, 'What breaks
an angel? Love.' I thought
that was weird, and creepy."
"It does sound creepy,"
Boss Blaster agreed.
"She said that relationships
between humans and angels
weren't meant to last," Cas said.
"Brief bright flames, compared
to that slow and unceasing glow."
"Did she ever find that glow with
somebody else?" Boss Blaster said.
"Not that I know of," Cas said.
He sat down heavily and put
his head in his hands, looking
a lot older than barely-eighteen.
"What about the other side of
Hali's family?" said Boss Blaster.
"No go," Cas said. "Evie's parents
never approved of our relationship,
so when she got pregnant, they
blamed me. They were too poor
to afford prenatal care, so we had
no warning about the wings, and --"
Cas started sobbing in earnest then.
Boss Blaster sat down beside him
and folded the boy onto his shoulder.
It took a few minutes before Cas
could talk again. "So yeah, nobody
knew and the wings tore her up
inside. There was so much blood."
"You were there?" Boss Blaster said.
What a horrible thing to witness.
"Yeah, Evie didn't have anyone else
to sit with her, and besides, I wanted
to meet our daughter," Cas said.
"Then everything went wrong."
He sighed. "It was all my fault."
"No it was not," Boss Blaster said.
"You're not a doctor. It was up to them
to keep Evie safe, and they didn't."
"Still feels like my fault," Cas said.
"Evie's still dead, so it's just me
taking care of Hali now."
"I can't imagine her parents
took it well," Boss Blaster said.
"They hate me," Cas said.
"They won't even look at Hali."
"I'm sorry," said Boss Blaster.
"You shouldn't have to deal with
all this when you're still growing up
yourself. They should've helped."
"Probably for the best," Cas said.
"They're not great people. As far as
I know, they hadn't told Evie anything
about whether she might be angel-kin.
I thought that my mom was nuts, but
at least she told me, you know?"
"That was an awful way to find out,"
Boss Blaster said. "So did you
complain about the hospital?"
"Why bother?" Cas said. "They
don't do prenatal for free."
"There are supposed to be
programs for the disadvantaged,
especially for teen parents,"
Boss Blaster said with a frown.
"You mean teen mothers,"
Cas said bitterly. "I never
got any support at all, even
after Hali's birth. People
treated me like her brother."
"That's wrong," Boss Blaster said.
"They're obligated to respect
your paternal rights, just like
Mrs. Dr. Finn explained."
"Yeah well, maybe it'd be
easier if I had any idea what
a father was supposed to be
like," Cas grumbled. "I never
knew my birth father, and
the foster ones were not
what I'd call good examples."
"Then use Dr. G and Heron
as your role models instead,"
Boss Blaster said. "You know
they won't put up with anyone
stepping on your family."
"Yeah, that's a good idea,"
Cas said. "I just wish that
I could have known mine.
'Brief bright flames' is poetic,
but not it's very satisfying."
"I know," Boss Blaster said.
"Some blends are harder
to handle than others."
"Yeah," Cas said. "It'd
be easier if we had just
been different colors."
"Maybe," Boss Blaster said.
"For now, try to focus on giving
Hali a better childhood than you had."
Cas huffed. "That bar is pretty much
lying in a ditch, boss," he said.
"Then Hali should forgive
my sloppy gift wrapping,"
Boss Blaster replied.
"I think we have paper
left," Cas said. "I've been
grabbing what I could from
thrift stores for this occasion."
He wiped his eyes again.
"Go wash your face,"
Boss Blaster suggested.
"Then we can see about
wrapping the vest for Hali."
"Okay," Cas said, and
headed for the bathroom.
Even though he hadn't
wanted to talk about his past,
it seemed to have helped a bit.
He looked a little calmer now.
Boss Blaster found tape and
scissors in the craft stash,
but no wrapping paper
or box to put the vest in.
Cas came back with both,
though, and they managed
to get the vest folded.
"She's going to love this,"
Cas said, fingering the buttons
that would let him open up
the shoulders for Hali
to step into the vest.
"I'm happy to hear that,"
Boss Blaster said. "If you
want more, the knitter takes
both commissions and barter."
"Thank you," Cas said. "Really.
It's so hard to find things that fit."
"Any time," Boss Blaster said
as he picked up the wrapped gift.
"Now let's get upstairs, we don't
want to keep the little lady waiting."
"Coming, boss," said Cas,
and followed him up the stairs.
* * *
See Hali's vest from Boss Blaster.
(These links are touchy.)
The core of trauma-informed care is asking "What happened to you?" instead of "What is wrong with you?" This forms the basis of the principles and practices. There are instructions for supporting trauma survivors and working through your own trauma. First responders typically have workplace procedures to minimize the risk of developing PTSD. So do some supervillains; Faster Blaster has learned from Boss White, and later, from the Finns.
(These are disgraceful.)
I live in a country that purports to be developed but has a perinatal death rate approximating that of third-world countries because America just doesn't care if women and babies die. A leading cause of those deaths is lack of prenatal care leading to deadly surprises in the delivery room, compounded by poor women getting less care even IN the hospital.
(These links are intense.)
Traumatic grief comes from a shattering loss, and it heals slowly or not at all or gets worse, instead of recovering at a normal (which is still not fast) rate. Traumatic loss increases the risk of complicated grief, PTSD or other complicatons. The anniversary of a loved one's death can revive trauma reactions even in someone who functions just fine most of the time. Here's a big archive of articles about all kinds of grief. Grieving people -- whether their grief is normal or traumatic -- need a safe and supportive environment. Few things are as precious as a friend who'll let you bawl on their shoulder until you run out of tears. Here are some resources for widowed dads. There are tips on coping with grief and supporting a bereaved friend.
Complicated grief is complex and can easily make people sick. There are ways to deal with grief at work. Look for small ways to take care of yourself, and understand the need for extra rest.
(These links are sad.)
When you help someone who is grieving, a lot of comes down to watching and supporting. Know the warning signs of complicated grief and how to work through it.
I made a Grief Questionnaire and a post about coping with grief.
Self-blame is a form of internalized emotional abuse, common among survivors of abuse or other trauma. Cas blames himself for Evie's death, or more specifically, for Hali having wings that caused fatal damage during childbirth. Follow the steps to let go of self-blame.
Abandonment comes in many forms, and can cause serious issues. Cas grew up without his father at all, with only a tenuous relationship to his mother, and mostly bad experiences in foster care compounded by people threatening to take Hali away from him. This is sometimes a problem, and it is not going to go away quickly just because he's in a better situation now, because the present grates against the past. Understand how to overcome the fear of abandonment.
Teen fathers are almost always excluded from programs for teen parents. I've only found one really good program for teen fathers -- and it's in New Zealand, so thank the Maori clan structure for that.