A Letter from Greg
Dying – living with it.
I am writing this at the beginning of July – just a few reflections on the last few weeks. There seem to be five key things to say:
Number 1 - Acceptance: when first diagnosed with malignant melanoma in September 2012 I was naive thinking it would soon sort itself out. Of course it wasn’t as straight forward as I thought, but at least all seemed to be clear by the following February, however, I am sure this helped me accept the new diagnosis advising that the melanoma had spread significantly. When people receive diagnosis of terminal illness there is likely to be a range of emotions, including denial, anxiety, fear, anger and so on but at some point it is important to reach acceptance of the diagnosis otherwise it is impossible to move on and face up to reality. Thankfully I was able to reach an acceptance of the reality of the diagnosis and put this down to my Christian faith, with which the future includes hope and not just despair.
Number 2 – Letting go: a real challenge is letting go of so many aspects of life. For me this included direct involvement in the day to day life of St Gregory’s – a huge part of my life, yet also letting go of many ideas, plans and thoughts about the future. As my world has narrowed over the weeks with the illness leaving me housebound, I have had to let go of simple things like posting letters, having a coffee out, shopping etc. More difficult still was letting go of relationships, when it became clear that I couldn’t cope with visitors. Ultimately the real challenge will be letting go of my family – that is yet to come. Yet there is a side to letting go that ought to be part of all our lives in that we are all called to let go of the ‘self’ and ‘ego’ which get in the way of our Christian discipleship, and so easily prevent us becoming more Christ like.
Number 3 – Being passive: I’ve never warmed to the term ‘fighting’ or ‘battling’ cancer. I have found it far more helpful to be passive. In the book ‘The Stature of Waiting’ by W.H. Vanstone, he points out that for much of Jesus’ ministry he is proactive, but from his betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane through to his crucifixion he is passive. For me being passive has two aspects to it:
Firstly, accepting everything that needs to be done to me. This includes medically (trusting the Dr’s etc), and all the other wonderful help that is offered including day to day care, provision of food, cards, and of course prayer. All of these things are a central part of letting go; letting things be done to, and for you. Secondly, it means handing myself fully over to God as Jesus had to during what we call his ‘Passion.’ The word in which we derive passion is the same as that, of which we derive patient - being passive equates to being a patient. Christ’s passion is of course a time of suffering, as of course is being terminally ill. Thankfully for me I am currently free of any pain, but suffering embraces not only the physical, but significantly the emotional and spiritual pain as well, yet it is here that we can be fully in God’s embrace. I have no doubt that it is being passive that’s enabled me to be at peace during these last months.
Number 4 – Making the most of the present moment: being terminally ill heightens the significant of the present moment, so much so that things we usually take for granted become very special. It might be the first flowering peony, the Rambling Rector rose in full flower, my grandson crawling for the first time, the picture on a get well card, the sun streaming through the window, or celebrating my daughters 30th birthday in Addenbrookes hospital – there have been so many special moments over the past few weeks they could have easily passed me by. Many of these special moments I have been able to share with my family and others – what a joy! Must we have to be terminally ill to fully appreciate these?
Number 5 - Planning: accepting the reality of the illness has enabled conversations about dying and the future where Jackie and I and other members of the family have been able to talk things through. We have discussed practical things such as my funeral (this is planned), financial matters, and what Jackie will do after my death. I suspect that facing up to my death has been easier for me than my family, in that they will have to continue living after my death. We have also been able to discuss the process of dying itself, and the hope of resurrection – not easy subjects, but so much better to talk about them then ignore them. It has been helpful to be able to share the grieving process together – there have been a lot of tears, as well as some laughter.
Undoubtedly the most significant aspects of the last few weeks have been the spiritual support I have received and knowing that I have been prayed for so faithfully and by so many has been hugely important. Helen’s visits to bring communion and anoint me have been really sustaining. Cards and prayers delivered to the house have been a constant source of encouragement; my faith has become much more real and I don’t know what I would have done without it. I have felt God’s spirit leading me into places I have never been before and my prayer has been that my faith will grow stronger as my body grows weaker. Words such as hope, joy, love, compassion, have taken on a much deeper meaning and the value of Christian community has been so much more evident.
It has been a privilege to be part of the Christian community at St Gregory’s over the last 7 years. I am so pleased to have been here. Thank you all for having shared these last 7 years with me.
May God bless you all in the on-going life of St Gregory’s,
your friend in Christ, Greg.
A Tribute from the Diocese
TRIBUTES have been pouring in for a much loved priest and rural dean who devoted almost 25 years of his life to serving Suffolk communities before dying peacefully at home surrounded by his family from cancer, aged 60.
The Revd Canon Gregory Webb, priest in charge at the 14th century St Gregory's church in Sudbury and Rural Dean for the Sudbury Deanery, died on Friday. He had formerly served as a rector in Bury St Edmunds and before that worked as a solicitor with a Felixstowe practice.
The Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: "I am immensely sad that Greg has died, and with so much ahead for him, Jackie and the family, as well as for St Gregory’s.
"I have known Greg for several years and have valued his wisdom and counsel. He bore his illness with an extraordinary equanimity and I was humbled each time I visited by his gentle spirit and profound faith. "The way he approached death was a strong witness itself to the Gospel of the Resurrection. My heart goes out to Jackie and the family, as they come to terms with his loss, and they are much in my prayers."
The Venerable Dr David Jenkins Archdeacon of Sudbury, said: “Gregory was a much loved and respected priest, very popular with his fellow clergy and lay people alike. He was a generous hearted, deeply spiritual man.”
Revd Webb, who studied law at Manchester University, entered the ministry as a deacon in 1991 and a priest in 1992 after studying at the Oak Hill Theological College in London.
He served as Curate at St George’s in Bury St Edmunds from 1991 to 1994, as Priest in Charge at All Saints in Bury from 1994 to 2002, and as Team Rector of All Saints, St John’s and St George’s churches from 2002, as well as Rural Dean of Thingoe Deanery in the Bury St Edmunds area from 2001.
In the Sudbury area Revd Webb was Priest in Charge of St Gregory’s with St Peter and Chilton for seven years, leading a congregation with a Sunday attendance of more than 100 people and serving a large town parish.
John Howard, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “Greg was always involved at the heart of the town’s life, with the major civic events in the community and as governor of both St Gregory’s and Tudor Primary Schools.
“He was also the inspiration and driving force behind the completion of a major building project at the church.”
His colleague at Sudbury the Revd Helen Mitchell, Associate Priest, said: “Greg was a lovely man and a wonderful priest, an inspiring preacher and leader and a caring pastor.
“The depth of faith with which he approached his death has in itself been an inspiration to the congregation of St Gregory’s and we will miss him so much; as will so many people in the town of Sudbury where he was well known and well-loved.”
Revd Webb was married to Jackie, a teacher, with three grown up children who are all married, and had five grandchildren.
St Gregory’s Church is open during the day for those who might like to leave messages of condolence or light a candle in memory of Revd. Webb. Messages can also be left at facebook.com/stgregorychurchsudbury or visit www.stgregorychurchsudbury.co.uk and follow the link.