Playing Dead

Twice in the last two years I’ve written and “performed” eulogies to my last two remaining grandparents. Twice in my life have I been asked to perform eulogies. It’s a skillset I apparently have that I’m not in any hurry to use any time immediately soon.

A secret: I enjoyed writing them. In the process of dealing with the deaths, writing about them was cathartic, and it’s one of the very few ways that in the wake of such tragedy I can do, do reasonably well, and contribute.

A second secret: Writing Grandad’s, and then to a lesser extent Grandma’s this week, started from a process I actually learnt as a LARP character. My character from Maelstrom, a priest of the goddess of knowledge and experiementation (ish), ended up performing funerals a couple of times an event. Funerals at LARP events are an interesting phenomenon, a celebration of a character’s life performed often with the player lying still in the centre, listening to a final literny of how their character has affected the game of the people around them. I’ve never actually had one – I’ve never had a LARP character die in uptime – but as Speaker Detail Marshall, I performed dozens, for my friends, for people I’d never really met, and for my character’s ex-wife (who is also also, for bonus weird points, my out-of-character girlfriend).

So when I was asked to do a short tribute for the funeral service of my Grandad, it’s that well I eventually went to – the five part structure: My relationship to the eulogy, Stories from the person’s life framed as a biography, My relationship to the person, the person’s relationship to the world, heart-string conclusion – was a framework I knew I could work in.

This one was harder, because it felt like a larger problem – it was a longer time, too – and I could see all the cracks in the first one open like earthquake faults. I’m not a perfectionist – I don’t have the attention to detail or the talent – but I am my own worst editor.

And I can see the problems. It runs too fast, it doesn’t break for thinking space, it peaks too often in the first section and the final paragraphs are a black-dimond-ski-slope towards a depressing end. These are all problems with the one I wrote yesterday too.

As I say, my own worst critic.

But the vicar who performed the service today said my eulogy was one of the best he’d ever heard, and everyone who came had a kind word for it, and they helped me deal with the loss.

I hope it’s not a skillset I have to use very often, though.


Muriel Miland

This is a scheduled post. When you read it, I’ll be nowhere near the internet. A couple of years ago when my grandad died, I posted the eulogy I did here, so I’m going to do the same thing again for my grandma. If I can, I’ll post something about the composition of both later this week.

This is my working copy of the document, as of Tuesday night when I’m posting it here. How much of it is what I said about ten minutes ago is a problem for future me.

Muriel Maud Miland


I’ve avoided writing this with a level of procrastination that has only previously been applied to my unlamented maths homework. Never has my living room been so tidy, never has my laundry been so folded. The idea of doing this final means admitting that this is the concluding chapter on the story of my last remaining grandparent’s time on this world, concluding nearly a century on it.

Born in 1921 , Youngest daughter of a herd  of siblings, she went to School in Pembury, a small village whose boundaries would be her home most of her life. Further school and then employment in Tunbridge Wells, Holy Trinity school for one, the alterations department of R. W. Weekes after. Her brothers Ern & Cyril also worked there, as well as Margret (Ern’s wife), working in the office. My mum still has a clothes  Horse Ern made for her for her doll’s clothes.  Her career got interrupted, as did everything else, by being called up for the war early in the efforts, but got recalled on compassionate grounds a little while later. Later on, she was back in service in Chichester, keeping the search-lights sweeping the sky for attacks – I’m not sure if the times line up with when she was around, but Chichester was bombed twice by the opposite side over the war, and once by an american bomber – sans crew who bailed earlier – which hit the site of the roman amphitheatre.

After the war Muriel returned to Weekes, and in 1948, Muriel married Frank Miland. I’m advised not to look to deep into any details of anything up to that, which hasn’t made the curiosity go away. However:

Muriel suffered jaundice shortly before they got engaged, and while Frank would visit every night for weeks – displaying a level of stubbornness that wouldn’t surprise anyone who met him – Muriel knew this might be fatal – someone she worked with had died from it recently – so she wouldn’t talk to him. It might not be worth the bother. So Frank’s mother – Emily – sent some carefully hoarded, rationed, tinned peaches to tempt her. She recovered – obviously – and on the first outing after that Frank proposed and that was that.

Until she retired, Muriel worked in boutiques, and she got on the people she worked with and enjoyed, most of the time, making the beautiful, expensive gowns fit the less than perfect people. Sometimes having to rebuild them completely – she was very good and such a perfectionist.

Muriel lived in Pembury almost all her life, and got engaged with every level of village life. From the Women’s Institute meetings – she was the controller of the Tunbridge Wells WI market, Darby and Joan clubs, The old Tyme Dance Club, WRVS Meals on Wheels even cooking for them once when the school kitchens were closed. She made costumes for the plays and cakes for the teas. She baked, gardened, and every year she’d dress  upto 100 capons for sale for  the Christmas Lunch Table of Pembury and the ICI where Frank worked..

Partnered with Frank, they were an incredible team, a force of nature, they were famous for their eggs and chickens and strawberries, and if one was ill or unable the other would step up and take over, especially as they got older. They brought up my mum, Jill, and she got involved in a lot of this stuff too.

She loved being a grandmother, looking and guiding me and my brothers – ideally without interference from my parents – and getting to know us when our parents disappeared to the pub at… it says here weekends, so I’ll assume there’s a fault in my memory. Some of my earliest memories are of creeping downstairs to see Grandma while grandad and my parents were off at the White Hart for the evening.

For myself, there has never been a time when my grandma hasn’t been there for me. From fixing the paws of my teddy-bear (with felt. Then again. Then later with leather, which held up about another twenty years) to helping sew things to my scout blanket, though to the reassuring presence I could go to if my parents were away or working.

I’ve avoided writing this for two weeks, just as I avoided writing my granddad’s just over two years ago, because two of the brightest, most life-giving, most reliable stars in my sky have gone out. Muriel Miland, one of the most giving, honest and lively people I’ve known and loved, is gone, and the skies will be darker now.