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Around The Sun: Dad's Funeral

Steve Harrison pays the saddest of sad return visits to his homeland.

We swore to each other then we would always be blood brothers – Bruce Springsteen

When I heard that my dad had died I was shaken to the core. I had no money. I bought a round-trip airline ticket to England on credit, then I went to the bank, told them I was going to my father's funera, and asked for a loan to ensure I was able to get back to Australia. They gave me one.

When I reached Yorkshire there was no familiar face waiting to greet me in the Walker's Arms. We buried my father next to his father and mother somewhere near Robertown, his town of birth.

Besides Barry Goodal, another of the men who influenced me while I was working for the advertising agency in Bradford was Michael Pearson. He was my spiritual guardian. Now he was in a Halifax hospital, close to death.

The last time I had seen him was on a clear winter's night when there was a full moon. We had been out drinking. He walked me half-way to my home across fields deep in fresh-fallen snow. It crunched beneath our feet as we left deep tracks across it.

Michael and I had always considered ourselves to be sages, seekers after truth. I looked up to him as being wiser because he was older than me. He was four or five years my senior. He always spoke quietly and positively. We would be in a group, laughing, talking loudly, then Michael would speak, then there would be a hush with everyone inclining an ear to what he had to say. He could command an audience with a whisper.

That night, when we walked across the snow-covered field, I was about to go overseas again. He asked me to promise that if I found the truth while I was away I would contact him and tell him what it was. I promised I would do so.

I made the promise as we faced each other. Then he was off, back across the snow-clad field. Although it was night the moon made it seem as bright as day. He was backtracking through the footprints he had made coming across the field. It seemed as though two had walked together, then one had vanished. There was always a sense of mystery about Michael.

Now I visited him in hospital. He was pale and drawn, with a tube up his nose and a drip feeding into a vein. He was in intensive care.

I wanted to tell him my truth, but he told me his. He had had a series of heart attacks. “Every night,” he said, pointing to the opaque plastic screen door to his room, “the devil comes in with a scythe, ready to to take me. He’s grey and deathly. Every night I fight him off. He’s been a dozen times and he’ll come a dozen times more before he gets me.''

The next day I saw Michael again. I told him that I had discovered the truth by reading the Bible. He listened intently, then said he was still being stalked by the Grim Reaper. I wanted to stay at his bedside, but his nurse said he was too weak and needed to rest.

The next day his wife called me to say that he had died. Michael had fought and lost his last battle.

I was filled with sad thoughts on my flight back to Australia.

I had lost my two guiding lights.

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