Part 1: The final whistle

Written by Bert Plomp

The game is only over when the final whistle has blown. That was my father’s motto. Those were the same words I spoke to him on his deathbed. To encourage him one last time. Unfortunately, it was in vain. Shortly after, he slipped into a coma. A few days later, he passed away from the effects of thyroid cancer. He died in the summer of 1975, only 59 years old.
That afternoon in June, I visited him in the Diaconessen Hospital in Utrecht. He had been there for a few weeks in a separate room. He was, as they say, ‘given up on’. I could tell from his laboured breathing that his end was near.
To check if he was still breathing, I placed my hand on his stomach. With increasingly longer intervals and more difficulty, he gasped for air. And then it suddenly stopped.
The treatment of his illness must have been hell for him. In the early seventies, precise radiation therapy to destroy a tumour was not yet possible. I often saw that his chest and neck were completely ‘burned’. Burned by the extensive, heavy radiation. His skin was even raw in several places. More and more wounds appeared, oozing fluid.
On January 26, just before his death, Dad celebrated his last birthday. His face had turned completely orange due to the disease. Despite all the suffering, he didn’t mind that this discoloration inspired some guests to make jokes. A remark that he, as a loyal supporter of the monarchy, shouldn’t take ‘Orange above’ so seriously didn’t bother him. He could see the humour in it. Without complaining about pain and with undiminished optimism, he fought for his life for over a year.
My father had struggled with overweight for years. In an attempt to lose some weight, not long before the disease manifested, he had participated in an experimental weight loss method. He was regularly given hormones as part of this treatment. It is quite possible that this treatment triggered the disease. However, it was a very sad fate for someone who never smoked and didn’t consume a drop of alcohol to pass away at such a young age.
All in all, my father did not have an easy life. He was born during the First World War and experienced the entire Second World War as a young man. Furthermore, his mother died young. Although I received my fair share of smacks on the head from him in my youth, he remains in my memories as a kind-hearted person. He actually didn’t like hitting at all. It mostly happened because I had caused more than mischief. But I only got punished once my mother had pushed him to it.
In the evening, after the funeral, a bizarre incident occurred at home. That evening, my father’s brother visited again. Uncle Kobus was very upset and had returned for a special reason. On his deathbed, my father had expressed his concerns to him. Concerns about my younger sister. About her relationship with a certain young man. My father saw a good future ahead for my sister. But not with that young man. My uncle was tasked with keeping that guy away from my sister. So, my uncle interpreted his brother’s wish and showed up. Not knowing what was hanging over his head, the suitor in question showed up in the neighbourhood that evening. My uncle promptly made preparations to go outside to chase away the unwanted suitor. To demonstrate his seriousness, he brandished a shiny knife while heading for the door. Although the weapon was no larger than an insignificant potato peeler, a friend present thought it wiser to block my uncle’s path to the outside. Before anyone knew it, both men were rolling, struggling, over the tightly laid carpet tiles in the living room. The end result was that my uncle, a formidable veteran of the Dutch East Indies, left without his mini kris. The unwanted suitor was thus spared and could continue his pursuit of my sister unabated. After this wrestling match, I spent the rest of the evening rearranging the carpet tiles. Luckily, I had gained enough experience with that in the past.
It’s a great pity that my father passed away so young. That he couldn’t enjoy my house in Ireland. He was very fond of Atlantic atmospheres. It would have been wonderful if I had been able to spend more time with him. More time to exchange thoughts with him. To hear about his youth and how he experienced the wartime. Especially when I was an adult myself. As a professional soldier, my father was stationed in Scotland for a while. From those days, he owned a complete, military, Scottish costume. Kilt included. He also collected a whole collection of bagpipe music. At the time, I couldn’t stand that music. Eventually, however, the unique sound of ’the pipes’ contributed to my decision to live in Ireland for years and to enjoy hearing this wind instrument being played.


For all episodes, click on: With one foot in the door

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