Acceptance

There are five stages of grief.

Harry knew this, though at the time it was hard for him to see that he was actually making his way through all of them. He sat silently in front of the camera. It was the first time he – or any of the boys, were speaking publicly about what had happened.

To recount his experience was going to be just as difficult as actually going through it. He felt as though he would have to re-live everything. That had been the reason for their prolonged silence about the incident – dredging up old memories wasn’t something he (or any of them) had been too keen on doing. Not until they’d had some time to deal with what had happened.

Getting over the loss of a loved one is something you never truly get over. Though Harry knew that now, it hadn’t been an easy road getting there.

The light flicked on, and the signal was given that Harry could begin talking. He took a deep breath as he began.

Denial, of course, is the first stage.

The phone clattered to the hard ceramic floor. Harry couldn’t believe what he had heard. He didn’t want to believe what he had heard. It had to have been a mistake… clearly they’d identified him wrong. Someone else had to be in the car, it had to be someone else who was driving a Renault, didn’t it?

Surely there were lots of little speed hungry blondes who drove that particular car.

“Harry? Harry?” he heard Liam’s voice ring through the receiver. Shaking, Harry knelt down and picked it back up. He could barely register the noises he was hearing. It was all a blur to him.

“Yeah?” was all he could manage to get out.

“Did you hear what I said?” came Laim’s shaking voice through the phone. “I’m so sorry I had to be the one to tell you.”

Harry felt a huge weight on his chest, a lump in his throat. He was sure that Liam had to be wrong. It all had to be a mistake. “It couldn’t have been him… it’s got to be a mistake…” he mumbled, lacking in any tone at all. He numbly licked his dry lips.

He heard Liam take a deep breath. “No Haz… it’s not. His mum is the one who called and told me. It was him…”

But it couldn’t be, it just couldn’t be. Harry was sure of it.

After denial, came anger. Harry recalled this well. He didn’t think he’d felt such intense anger with anyone in his life. Sure, there had been times he’d been mad at the record company, or with ex-girlfriends and their comments about him.

But it was nothing compared to the anger he felt towards someone who wasn’t even alive any longer to witness it.

The funeral precession was like any other. People dressed in black, crying, recounting their experiences and memories.

Harry stood off in the corner of the family room. He wanted no part of this, and in fact, he hadn’t even wanted to go. He probably wouldn’t have, if not for how much it would have caused a media outcry. There was no need for that.

But as Harry watched Maura sobbing in Greg’s arms, his fists balled up with rage.

It was all his fault. This could have all been avoided if he hadn’t been so stupid! There really was no one else to blame. It was no fault but his own and what was the point in mourning someone who had basically taken their own life?

Because that’s what it was, wasn’t it? He’d done it to himself. The highway had been empty, not another car in sight. Just a Renault going way over the speed limit in icy conditions.

So who was to blame in this situation?

It wasn’t an open casket, and for that, Harry was glad. He didn’t want to see his face. All he wanted to do was grab his dead friend by the shoulders and scream at him over and over again. He wanted to shake him and show him his grieving mother, who was now without her youngest son.

“Look! Look what you’ve done!” he would shout as he pointed at her. “It’s all on you, mate! They shouldn’t be grieving for you, they should be sitting here telling you how bloody stupid you are! But they can’t, because you’re gone, and it’s all your fault! You’ve got no one to blame but yourself!”

Harry remembered that quite clearly, and he still felt mixed emotions when it came to the funeral. It had been awkward for him to sit there, feeling so overwhelmed with rage, but having to act as though he was sad and grieving just as everyone else was. It was almost as though he had to force himself to cry, and as bad as it was, he had to think of something else to get the tears flowing.

He kept all of this to himself, of course. He’d briefly mentioned to Liam how hurt he was and how this all could have been avoided while they were at the reception. Liam had just offered him a smile through his tear-stained face and nodded. Harry wasn’t wrong, but Liam had just told him there was no point in placing the blame. What was done was done, and they should just try to focus on remembering the good times.

Remembering the good times, was what had causing Harry to go from being so angry, to wishing desperately for things to change.

Because, you see, bargaining is the next stage.

Harry stared at the speedometer as he drove down the long UK highway. Everyone was going 80 clicks, but he remained steadfast at 70.

There was no way he was going to go over the limit. Not even if everyone else was. Not even if he was running late and there was somewhere he absolutely had to be. Not even if he got stopped again by the police for going too slow.

He gripped the steering wheel and looked out at the road in front of him. The skies were clear, but he couldn’t help but imagine them as dark and clouded. If only he could have just slowed down and taken his time… none of this would have happened.

So Harry kept on. Sometimes he convinced himself that if he never went over the speed limit his eyes would open and everything would go back to how it was.

He wanted to wake up from this nightmare and go back to living the dream.

Harry glanced at the ground and looked away from the camera for a moment. He knew now of course that nothing he did or said would change what had happened, but admitting it out loud was something that was never easy for him.

Hearing the words from his own mouth always stung his eardrums. He always needed to take a minute to recover after that.

He took a deep breath and glanced back upwards. The realization that his bandmate was gone forever had hit him like a ton of bricks. It was a crippling depression that Harry didn’t deal with well at all.

Three days. That was how long Harry had been locked up in his room back at his mother’s home in Cheshire.

He laid on his bed, his pillow stained with tears. His face was a mess and was a far cry from the bright smile that had once graced the cover of Tiger Beat.

“Hazza?” he heard a voice ringing through his door. It was Liam.

Harry didn’t make any motion to move. He didn’t care. He couldn’t bear to see any of their faces. He’d even had to leave the complex they’d all lived in for the time being. It seemed so quiet in that building without the awkward Irish laughter ringing through the halls.

“Harry come on, I came all the way here to see you, mate,” Liam tried again.

Harry sighed and rolled off the bed. He opened his bedroom door, but didn’t say a word. Liam just gave him a sympathetic nod and pulled his friend in for a tight hug. Harry gripped him tightly as fresh tears began to fall.

Only the four of them could truly understand the loss and the pain. Their lives were suddenly without purpose or direction. They’d lost a friend, yes, but they’d lost their careers as well.

Harry gave the camera a slight nod and a smile, as if to prove he was no longer in that dark place.

It hadn’t been easy for him to crawl out of that hole, but with the help of the others, he’d done it. They’d all realized that even though it was difficult, they had to lean on each other instead of sheltering themselves away.

It had taken time for them to heal, and there was one necessary step in the healing process. None of them felt they would ever be ready for it – but it had to be done.

Reaching acceptance was not to forget the impact he’d had on all of their lives. Rather, it was to honour it and live with the fact that things had changed.

Harry glanced over at Zayn, Liam and Louis as the doors opened and the X-Factor stage was revealed in front of them.

It wasn’t going to be easy, but they owed the fans this much. One final performance as a group, even if they were no longer complete. They would never truly feel whole again, but to come back to where it all started only felt right.

So Harry took a deep breath and walked out on stage as he began to sing. Though one fifth of their group was was gone, his memory would forever live on.

“I gotta change my answering machine now that I’m alone, cause right now it says that we can’t come to the phone…”

Harry glanced up at the camera and though he tried to keep it together, a stray tear managed to fall from his eye. He reached upwards and slowly wiped it away with his thumb.

The light on the camera went off and the crew gave him a nod, signalling that they were finished. They had all they needed for their interview.

Harry glanced upwards. It hadn’t been easy, but somehow he’d made it through. Life would continue to go on, and though he would never forget, he was finally ready to move forward.

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