Obituary: William Stebbe

I would like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to my friend Bill, who died at home from cancer in the early hours of Friday. Bill has been a follower of my blog pretty much since we met, and has frequently posted lovely, affirming comments and some questions. I met him last year on the retreat day I went to at Julian’s shrine in Norwich. I had spent most of the day being quiet and maintaining my sense of solitude as much as possible, until towards the end of the day, I had a wonderful conversation with a former Chemistry student of mine. Feeling bouyant after that I decided to return to the coffee shop for a bit, to be where the people were. That is when I met Bill. We spent about an hour chatting, with the young priest in charge of the parish. Afterwards, I decided to go to a film and as I was crossing the Millenium Bridge over the river, bumped into Bill, who had taken the other fork which now merged with mine. We had dinner together, and it set us on a path of friendship. We occasionally met up and went to the cinema, or had coffee or food, and he came to see my mandalas in an art exhibition. A gentle, optimistic soul, I enjoyed our discussions. He let me know that he was thinking about joining my church, and eventually asked me how he should go about it. Taking instruction prior to lockdown, when it became evident that he was seriously ill, he was received into the church. I met with him once more in the space inbetween lockdown and him being confined to home, when he asked me to be with him in church when he received the sacrament of the sick. I have never been present for this sacrament before, and felt very privileged and moved to be there.

In the last month or so while Bill was confined to home, his family had been providing him with constant care on a rota. I am full of admiration for Celia, Barbara, Solveig and Adern for their commitment and care. I am quite a squeamish person, so I am not at all sure how I would cope in a similar situation. I have been visiting him twice a week to spend time with him, to read scripture to him and to pray. It seemed fitting to read the Book of Tobit to him, since he asked me quite a few times on and off the blog, about the Sally Vickers quote at the beginning of the Diary of a Sunflower entries. He liked Sarah’s prayer for death – it seemed to express his readiness:

‘Blessed are you, merciful God!
    Blessed is your name for ever;
    let all your works praise you for ever.
12 And now, Lord,[d] I turn my face to you,
    and raise my eyes towards you.
13 Command that I be released from the earth

Tobit 3: 11b-13a

Bill told me, and he told me to tell people, that dying was a nice experience and that this was the best country to die in. The NHS also took good care of him and the palliative care he recieved helped to keep his pain at a bearable level. If anything, he was impatient to “be with the Lord”, and we talked about purgatory as being a state of waiting, where he was now. As a relatively new Catholic, it was something he found puzzling.

I miss this gentle man already, with his easy, optimistic view of life and his cheerfulness when facing all of these big questions. Goodbye Bill, my life is better for having met you and I am glad that you are no longer in pain. I’m sure that, like the good thief you identified with in our talk on purgatory, you are with Him, this day in heaven. x

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