Ester Marsh: A trip across the Atlantic to see dad one final time

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2022

A little over two weeks ago, I got the dreaded phone call that many people before me have experienced. My dad was dying…. And I needed to come home.

Being from the Netherlands, a time like this makes the Atlantic Ocean become even bigger than it already is.

When I had my neck cancer surgery, my dad was diagnosed with cancer too, in his bone marrow and from asbestos.

Being a baker his whole life, he was exposed in his early years to  asbestos that was used to insulate the ovens.

At 85, he could “clap in his hands that it happened at this age” — his words translated from Dutch.

The COVID-19 pandemic had affected him tremendously, as it has many others being isolated for so long. Things started to open up but he had lost lots of muscle, so getting around was harder than before. I have one brother and two sisters who live in the Netherlands and one brother and sister live one block away from our dad.

It’s hard being so far away and not able to help with the care he needed, but my family is wonderful and they stepped in where needed and never made me feel left out, even that I couldn’t help from this side of the ocean.

We were very fortunate growing up. We had to work very hard, but we played hard too!

All four of us were not interested in the bakery and our parents paid for private education and supported us with our life goals, which did not include the bakery.

I wanted to become a world traveler, so after nine months in France I was going to spend one year in America. Well, almost 34 years later, I am still here!

I have been very fortunate that I was able to go home once a year, and in 2017 I was able to spend the last two months of my mother’s life with her and my family in the Netherlands.

The YMCA has been an amazing organization to work for (25 years in August!) and is 100% supportive when it comes to family and close friends. My dad’s dream trip was going to the North Cape in Norway by boat. My older sister Anke, who lives very close, accepted the challenge to have my dad make his last dream trip there.

It was touch and go before his trip because his health declined quickly. The doctor said he could travel but that we had to understand he might end up in the hospital, or even die on this trip. Willing to take that chance for his dream trip, they flew to Norway and for 11 days were on the boat that stopped at every port going up to the North Cape, one more beautiful than the other.

He was in a wheelchair due to lack of strength. Reaching the North Cape, my sister pushed him up the road to the big marker there. A dream comes true…

After reaching the cape, his health declined even more. We Facetimed every day and we could see his health declining fast. On March 23,  they returned and the trip took a lot out of him. That night I asked if he wanted to see me before this summer (When I go home for 3 weeks). His answer was weak and he said “jaaaa” (yessss).

So I booked a flight for April 14-22. Then, on Friday March 25, I received “the phone call” that I had to come home. My dad was going fast and the doctor didn’t think he would make it through the weekend. Before I knew it, and truly with divine intervention, I was on the plane and arrived in Amsterdam at 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. U.S. time).

I reached home at 1:30 p.m. and my dad was talking (weakly). He was happy I was there and was in a hospital bed but fortunately still able to be at home. We spent that day with the family and the priest came that afternoon for his last rites.

At 12:10 a.m. on Sunday, March 27, he died peacefully holding my younger sister’s hand. I will treasure it forever that he waited for me and I know he is dancing with my mother once again.

Ester H. Marsh is Health & Fitness director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.