STAGES OF GRIEF

DENIAL

Set in continuous action after the season 3 Christmas special. Since rumors indicate that season 4 will pick up months after the tragedy, I thought about what the immediate aftermath might look like for those left behind.

The two cars slowed as they approached the scene. A lorry pulled awkwardly off to the side of the road, blocking the lane, it's cargo spilled across the narrow roadway. Two police vehicles were parked behind the truck just before a bend in the road. One constable stood in the center of the road, and held traffic as the lead car bearing Lord and Lady Grantham slowed to a stop just behind the truck. The second car pulled in behind, with Tom, Edith and Isobel craning their necks to see what the holdup was.

"Oh, Robert," said Cora. "I hope we're not too delayed. I can't wait to get my hands on that baby."

Robert nodded, also fidgety and anxious to meet his grandson and future heir. He leaned forward to speak with their driver. "See what's wrong and how long we'll be."

"Yes, m'lord." The man quickly nodded and exited the car.

Robert watched as the chauffeur spoke to the constable, who suddenly seemed interested in their little caravan. Both men approached the lead car, and the constable leaned in the open window.

"Lord Grantham, might I speak with you a moment?"

"Yes," Robert tried not to sound impatient. "What is it?"

Catching sight of Cora and the Dowager Countess, also seated in the lead vehicle, the officer hesitated. "I'll ask you please to step out the car and come with me, my lord."

Cora tugged impatiently at her husband's coat sleeve. "Robert—"

Robert sighed, cursing his never-ending responsibility to the county. "I'll be right back." He patted her arm, and climbed out of the car and was led to the side of the road just beyond the bend.

"Lord Grantham, I was just about to send a constable to Downton Abbey to fetch you."

"Why? This is a public road. It's not my land, and as far as I can tell that's not a lorry from my estate. Clean it up and let us by."

"Your lordship, I'm sorry to say the incident is worse than it appears." He walked Robert around the bend, beyond the scattered material from the truck and pointed across the road to the broken brush leading down an embankment. "I'm afraid the driver of the second vehicle was fatally injured."

Two officers stood off to the side at the road's edge, questioning the distraught lorry driver, who nervously held his hat in his hands. Robert didn't notice the man shrink at the sight of him.

"I'm ever so sorry, my lord," the man cried as the constable led him as far away from Lord Grantham as possible. "He must've been flying. I never saw him until it was too late. I swear."

Robert's eyes wandered into the woods, where the undercarriage of a wrecked roadster was visible. He slowly drifted to the edge of the dirt roadway.

The head constable followed Robert and spoke respectfully in lowered tones. "He's still pinned inside, so we haven't been able to reach the driver's identification yet, but I do believe I recognize him as your son-in-law, my lord."

His knees buckled beneath him as the reality of what Robert was seeing sunk in. "Matthew," he whispered.

"Lord Grantham, is that Mr. Crawley's car?"

Ignoring the question and forgetting his own lofty position, Robert quickly staggered down the steep embankment.

"No," called the constable. "Lord Grantham, it isn't safe. We have to secure the car or it may shift."

Robert slid in the brush and mud until he was beside the rear of the upturned car. Clutching at trees to keep himself upright, he fought an overwhelming feeling of dread as he slowly edged his way in sight of the driver's side.

There was no mistaking the lifeless figure he found there. The driver of the second vehicle was fatally injured.

"Matthew." His voice was strained as he slumped beside the partially trapped body of his fallen son-in-law. The angle of the young man's head, the vacant eyes and the blood still pouring from his ears told Robert all he needed to know. "Matthew." He tentatively reached out and touched his surrogate son on the side of his bloodied face. "No. You can't leave us now. We need you. I need you." Alone in the woods, tears formed in Robert's eyes. "You have everything now for a perfect life. You have my daughter. A son. My god, Mary." He fought back a sob and buried his face in his bloodied hands. There would be no fairy tale for his daughter and grandson. "Your wife and son are waiting. Matthew, please." He looked up at the sound of a rustle in the woods behind him. Sliding down the small hillside, Tom suddenly appeared at the boot of the vehicle, but froze at the sight of a dazed Robert seated in the mud at the side of Matthew's body.

"My god," whispered Tom. "Matthew." The young man's eyes drifted from the lifeless form of his friend to Robert, who somehow seemed to be asking for an explanation that Tom was unable to give. "Oh, my god. No." Tom Branson stared in disbelief at the wreckage of Matthew's car, a familiar knot of grief and anger once again growing inside him. Would this family be spared nothing? Another loss. Another child who would never know a parent. More parents losing a child. A spouse widowed moments after life's most joyous event.

Robert shook his head helplessly, his soft voice hoarse and strained from trying to control his emotions. "I can't do this again. I cannot bury another child."

A parent now, Tom sympathized with the heavy weight his father-in-law bore with Sybil's tragic death, and knew he must also be recalling the awful night several years back when the lord and lady had lost their unborn son. And now, Lord Grantham's heir and father to the long-awaited future heir lay lifeless before them; another Crawley life that had ended far too soon.

"I'm sorry." Tom felt his words as hollow as those that fell on his own ears in the moments and days that followed Sybil's death, but what else was there to say? "I'm so terribly sorry."

A brief look of understanding passed between the two men—men divided by age and class and experience, recently united in purpose, and now again in grief and loss. Yet neither was quite prepared to ask, nor offer, any more.

Robert took a sharp breath, suddenly remembering Cora and the rest of his family waiting just yards away, waiting to welcome a new life into their world, blissfully unaware of the shattered lives around the bend.

Being a man of duty, Lord Grantham knew his responsibility now lay with the living. Perhaps because of Tom's proximity, or his lifelong training in public bearing, he resolved to set his grief aside for a more private time. He said a quiet goodbye to the young man who had singlehandedly saved Downton, Mary, and the future of the earldom itself. Slipping a bit on the uneven ground, Robert allowed Tom to grasp his arm to steady him as he struggled to his feet and removed his suit jacket. He removed his wallet and the imported cigars he had planned to hand out at the hospital, and gently laid the coat over his lost heir, allowing Matthew the dignity in death that he had earned in his short life.

Seeing Tom beside him, still overcome with his own grief, Robert awkwardly, but tenderly, patted the young man's shoulder. The two men silently steeled themselves for what was to come.

Tom led the way as they crept back up the embankment, figuring the unsteady Robert would prefer not to be handled by the constable under any circumstances. At the top, Robert did allow Tom to help him back onto solid ground, though the sight of the great Lord Grantham emerging dirty and streaked with blood drew the attention of the nearby policemen.

"That is your son in law, Lord Grantham?" asked the man in charge.

Robert nodded absently. "Yes." He cleared his throat in an effort to regain some air of authority. "I want him out of there at once."

"As soon as we have enough men to safely roll the car to free him. You have my most sincere condolences, my lord."

Not hearing the man's sentiments, Robert's attention was already turned to the vehicles that bore his family. Tucked around the small bend in the road, only the nose of the lead vehicle was visible. Robert turned to Tom, though more as a son-in-law than a chauffeur. "I think you should take them home before they—" He was interrupted by the sight of Isobel rounding the bend with a purpose.

"Robert," she called. "What's wrong? Is someone hurt? Perhaps I can help."

He knew he couldn't deal with Isobel by himself, not in his own present condition. He grabbed Tom by the elbow, "Get Cora. Quickly." As the young man scurried away, Robert quickly stepped forward to stop Isobel's progress. "Isobel, please, come with me." He tried to lead her back to the car.

"But if I can offer assistance, I must do it," insisted his cousin. "You needn't protect me. I've seen accident victims before."

"Isobel," Robert's voice cracked and tears filled his eyes. "Stop. Please."

Isobel finally realized the state her cousin was in. "What is it? Do we know them?"

Cora hurried to her husband's side, with Tom in tow. "Robert?"

At the sight of her, and the panic in her eyes at his blood-stained hands and shirt, Robert was unable to maintain his composure any longer. He broke down in front of both women, but reached out for Isobel's hands.

"Matthew," he whispered, trying to hold himself together. "It's Matthew."

Isobel froze. "Matthew? What do you mean?" She tried to move away, toward the accident scene, but Robert held her fast.

Robert's own eyes, however, were on his wife, searching desperately for comfort she was still too shocked to give. "His car went over the edge."

"No," breathed Cora. "It can't be."

"No. No, you can't say that. It isn't true." Isobel pulled roughly away from him, but his size and grip won out. He held her by the arms. She looked up at Robert, not wanting to believe what she saw written all over him. "I have to go to him," she ordered. "Let me. I want to see him."

"No," said Robert, knowing well the agony of seeing the lifeless bodies of his children. "You don't." Again he found his wife's gaze. "Help me," he pleaded, though it wasn't completely clear whether he wanted help with Isobel or for himself.

Cora, too shattered and shocked even to cry, mechanically pulled her cousin into an embrace and led her protesting back toward the cars. She knew what Isobel was feeling. Cora looked over Isobel's shoulder at her shaken husband and, knowing they had waited too long to share their grief over Sybil, wanted nothing more than to take him into her arms and cry with him. But she knew this was neither the time nor the place for Robert Crawley; it was far too public for him, and in his controlled world, raw emotion represented a weakness he may show to Cora on occasion, but would never display even to the rest of his household, much less to strangers on a country road. She tried to be strong for him, and promised herself that she would see him through this and help him to welcome their grandson into their lives.

"Lord Grantham," said the constable. "We need some information for the report."

Robert winced. He certainly couldn't pawn this task off on Isobel, but he felt his place was with his family. "Cora?"

"I'm all right," she whispered, reaching out to squeeze his hand. Isobel was trying to question any officer within earshot, begging for more information and insisting there must be a mistake. "I'll stay with cousin Isobel. Go."

Robert looked at Tom, who was as much in a state of shock as the rest of them at the loss of his friend. The older man knew grief on top of grief would weigh heavily for the Irishman, as it would for all of them. Past differences or not, Lord Grantham also knew that this was another young man entrusted to his care by one of his beloved daughters. "Tom? Are you all right?"

A pang of embarrassing guilt stabbed at Tom's gut as he recalled his early disdain for the Crawley's seemingly perfect life, and his ignorant desire for them to feel the pain of the downtrodden. His dearest Sybil's words resonated once again: Don't think we don't have feelings, because we do. Money, titles, paintings, heritage—none of it spared them the agony of the death of loved ones. And Tom knew now that they did feel; they did love, just like everyone else. They loved, and lived, and suffered, and lost. Just like him. Even Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.

"Tom?" Robert's voice called to him again.

Looking up at his father in law, Tom just nodded.

The constable was still waiting at Robert's elbow. "Lord Grantham, a moment, please."

Robert swallowed hard and took a deep breath. He robotically answered the constable's first few questions confirming Matthew's full name, address and birthdate, but struggled when it came to next of kin. He managed to get out the names of Lady Mary Crawley and Isobel Crawley.

The questions continued. "My lord, do you know where Mr. Crawley was coming from, and where he was headed? It appears he might have been headed back to Downton Abbey?"

Unable to continue, the older man tried to distract himself. Looking around, Robert took in the scene, scanning in turn the officers, the gathering passersby, Cora, and Isobel. He stared at the opening in the woods created by the careening roadster. Where was he coming from? Heaven. He was coming from heaven. He imagined Mary in the hospital holding their newborn son, Matthew at her side-and a solid and wonderfully loving future as Earl and Countess of Grantham awaiting them on an estate now secured financially, and felt himself losing control again. Words would not come, so Robert stared stoically off onto the horizon beyond the policeman.

"Lord Grantham," pressed the constable, holding his clipboard and pen at the ready. "Do you know where he was coming from?"

Tom appeared at Robert's side. Don't make the mistake of thinking he has no feelings. He protectively stepped between Robert and the policeman. "Leave him be. What possible difference could that make now?"

"I'm sorry, sir," said the constable, with considerably less deference than he showed the earl. "But we've got protocols to follow with traffic fatalities—"

"And I suppose they include harassing the victim's family?" Respecting the protocols of the aristocracy, Tom didn't dare touch Robert in public, but he instead pulled the officer away. "Lord Grantham's just lost his son-in-law and heir, and only hours after Mr. Crawley's own son was born. You've got the lorry driver's account. You don't need Lord Grantham. This family needs to be left alone for a while."

"But the deceased—"

"Will still be dead tomorrow." And the day after. If anyone knew the finality of death, it was Tom. "And the Crawleys aren't going anywhere, are they?"

Beaten, the constable closed his papers and wandered away. Tom came back to Robert, who still stood unmoving by the side of the road.

"Thank you," said Robert quietly. He suddenly shook himself. "I must tell Mama and Edith. They'll be wondering what's keeping us."

"I'll do it," said Tom. "Please. I can't help much, but at least I can spare you that."

Instinctively reluctant to accept the offer at first, Robert bristled with hesitation, and then agreed. "Stay with them. And don't let Edith leave my mother alone. She isn't as tough as she'd like us to think."

Tom slowly nodded. "None of us are," he said.

Robert gave a small smile of appreciation, clapped his only remaining son-in-law on the arms and walked back to where his wife was consoling his cousin.

Edith was standing outside the lead car speaking through the open window to her grandmother. She spoke up before Tom had even finished his approach. "What on earth is the holdup?"

"Please," said Tom. "Can you sit in the car for a moment?" He opened the door and gestured for Edith to get inside.

Edith complied. "Where's everybody gone? It's like they wandered off one-by-one into the desert only to be swallowed up by quicksand, while we sit awaiting our turn to follow-"

"Edith," Violet held up her hand, her instincts telling her something was very wrong. "Let him speak. What is it, Tom? What's happened?"

Tears filled Tom's eyes. "I'm afraid it's Matthew. There's been an accident."

Both women stared at him open-mouthed.

Violet whispered, "Is he badly injured?"

Tom managed to nod, but the words wouldn't come. A tear escaped his eye and fell down his cheek.

Edith grabbed Tom's arm. "Tell us. How bad is it?" When Tom hesitated, Edith reached for the door handle. "Well, I'm not a child. I'll go and see for myself—"

"No," said Tom. "Your father wanted you both to stay here and I promised you would." He'd not let Robert down. Not now. "There's nothing you can do. Nothing anyone can do. He's gone."

Violet gasped. "Dead?"

Hearing it put so bluntly, the realization hit Tom hard. Dead. Like Sybil. "Yes. I'm so sorry. Lord Grantham is dealing with the police, and Lady Grantham is with Mrs. Crawley."

"It can't be," said Violet, her eyes wide with shock. "Not today, of all days. Not again. It's like being forced to re-live one's darkest day."

"Poor Mary. Does she even know yet?" asked Edith, showing uncharacteristic concern for her older sister.

"I don't think so," said Tom. "I think it's only just happened."

"She mustn't be alone when she hears," said Violet. "Tell me, how is Robert?"

Tom shrugged. "How can he be? He…saw him."

"It's a horror for parents to lose the younger generation. It goes against the very fabric of nature." Violet dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Thank god the heir is in place."

"Granny!" cried Edith. "How can you talk about that now?"

"Don't let's pretend it isn't important," said Violet. "I'm as grief-stricken as anybody, but succession is your father's burden and has been since the day he married your mother. It's why he brought Matthew here in the first place. That his grandson is now in line makes this no less a tragedy, but I won't pretend it isn't a welcome fact."