On the death of a brother-in-law

Posted by on Apr 22, 2017 in Blog | 6 comments

My brother-in-law, Milner McPherson, died last night, the 21 April 2017. He had been in a deep coma for a few weeks, so was unable to anticipate what was about to occur, but if that had not been the case, he would have approached his departure cheerfully and indeed, enthusiastically. For some death comes as the enemy – for others, death is the friend. After years of poor health (cancer leading to the amputation of his right leg below the knee; brain tumour; Parkinsons; dementia), this 77 year old father of two and grandfather of five, was able to welcome death as the friend.

Of course it was not always like that. I first met Milner when I started to go out with Rosemary. He was married to Rosemary’s older  sister, Joy – and though there was a fair age gap between us (Milner being 18 years older than me), we got on well, and once Rosemary and I married, we often spent holidays at Joy and Milners home, or they would stay with us. I remember on one such holiday Milner enthusing about the health benefits of honey. He had purchased several tubs of creamed honey, and I recall us making serious inroads into the supply as one slice of honey drenched toast followed another – all for the sake of our health!

Not that it mattered much. These were our running days, and we could get away with consuming unnecessary calories. Milner did enjoy jogging (and cycling), something sometimes forgotten in his post amputation days. That amputation was more than a somewhat difficult period for him. Though it stemmed the cancer, the physical pain from the amputation never really stopped. It was a hard load to carry.

Ask anyone what they remember about Milner and almost everyone will reply – his voice. And what a voice. My, he could sing! Sing in a way that left your spine tingling… the sort of sensation you have when you listen to Pavarotti reach the climax of Nessun Dorma. And he used that voice for God’s glory. Joy would accompany him on the piano as he sang at churches around South Africa. His taste in music was conservative – in the school of George Beverly Shea – the themes of the afterlife and the wonders of heaven usually dominating. He would sing “I’d rather have Jesus, than silver or gold”, or confidently proclaim “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there”. And of course he also sang “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.” He sang at our wedding, he sang when Rosemary’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, he sang whenever we could get him to sing… and he blessed so many, many people through using the extraordinary gift that God had given him. Not that he only sang Christian songs. He would often burst into well loved theme songs from the movies, sometimes humourously adapting them to the person he was singing to.

His day job was in administration, largely with the South African Railways, and in semi-retirement he helped work in the office and grounds at the Christian School where Joy teaches. A brain tumour a few years back put an end to that. It’s been a rough ride since, the tumour (its thought) triggering a form of dementia – and then there was the onset of Parkinsons.

Dementia impacts people differently. Some take on personalities completely inconsistent with their earlier self. Not so with Milner. Always a warm, loving and affirming person, he became even more so. He always loved his wife Joy. The Milner with dementia not only loved her – he adored her. And he was so proud of his children. And rightly so. If our children reflect the values they have learnt in their upbringing, Milner can indeed stand tall. Both Kenneth and Rosalee are passionate followers of Jesus, now passing on the faith they learnt in their home, to their own children.

A few weeks back, Milner developed pneumonia. Though it was treated aggressively, he slipped into a coma – a very deep coma, from which he did not emerge. But in that silent world, he did hear another voice calling. Yes, softly and tenderly Jesus was calling… this time calling for you, Milner, my friend. You answered that call twenty minutes after your family had left you for the night. They had planned to come back again, and again and again, for however long it took. But those days have now ended…

If there are moments when you hear heavens choir singing, you might perhaps wonder why it has become a little more melodic, and a little bolder in its praise. That’s because for Milner the roll has been called up yonder, and he is indeed there, helping lift that celestial choir to a new level. And he is forever, “safe in the arms of Jesus”…



  1. What a beautiful eulogy for a much loved brother in law Brian. Love Merle Umhlanga Baptist. ?

  2. Not any easy journey to witness in the latter times Brian. Ministering to those with the various forms of mind altering diseases is very challenging…I still find it the most difficult part of my chaplaincy and feel quite inadequate to tackle it meaningfully…

  3. Thank you for sharing such a personal and uplifting story. A life well lived to the glory of God!

  4. Thank you for this fitting & heartfelt tribute, my awesome & incredible Uncle Brian! We love you guys more than words can say & wish you were here, but more importantly, we treasure your prayers & love!! Jesus Christ our Saviour & Lord now has given him his glorified body, & I have no doubt that my Dad rejoices like never before, for his deep desire was always to be in Christ’s presence… Prayer answered.

  5. Thank you for a wonderful eulogy. As we near heavens gates we are impatient to be there, and so blest to know His wonderful presence and companionship now.

  6. Thank you for sharing my uncle Milner’s life and passing with the world. Heaven was truely missing an Angel but now he returned home to his Father. Edith Steyn

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