Make Final Wishes Known Urges Nurse Based on Her Personal Story

“If you can take one thing away from your loved one’s plate and just give them that reassurance that this is what you want, I think that is the best gift someone could give.”

No one can completely prepare for what it will be like to lose a loved one, especially since every situation is different.

As a CentraCare Clinical Specialist RN for Home Health, Andrea Kollmann is no stranger to difficult decisions and the end-of-life process.

Santa, Andrea's parents and sons
Andrea’s parents and sons with Santa

She experienced losing both of her parents, Bruce and Susan Berg, just 16 months apart. The end of her parents’ lives was drastically different.

“My dad passed away in February 2022 and then my mom passed away in June 2023,” stated Andrea.

Bruce was suffering from a condition called rheumatoid lung. It’s a disease that affects some people with rheumatoid arthritis by attacking their lungs and causing several pulmonary issues.

In the winter of 2022, he became sick with COVID-19 and ended up on a ventilator at CentraCare – St. Cloud Hospital. During the two weeks he was intubated, his family worked closely with the hospital’s Palliative Care team.

“I was told my father wasn’t going to survive off the ventilator,” Andrea exclaimed. “We had to make that decision to continue fighting or let him go.”

Bruce had always been hesitant to make his ending wishes known to his family and was quick to brush off those conversations. Now, his loved ones were tasked with making his final choice for him.

“We had to make the decision, knowing and loving him, that he would not want to live like a vegetable,” Andrea advocated. “But there’s still that little bit of not knowing 100 percent if that’s what he wanted.”

That experience had lasting effects on Andrea and her family. “The process doesn’t stop once a loved one passes away … it’s really hard not knowing what a loved one wants.”

Meanwhile, Andrea’s mother Susan was battling multiple forms of cancer and receiving chemotherapy treatments that were taking a toll on her body.

“She kept getting infections … It just seemed to be overtaking her life,” Andrea retained.

An Infectious Disease doctor finally told Susan she should stop seeking treatments and instead focus on what was most important to her with the time she had left.

“It took her a few days to really be OK with quitting treatment and using CentraCare Home Health and Hospice,” Andrea admitted. “What I told my mom that really got through to her was ‘you’re still fighting. It’s just a different fight. Instead of fighting to live, you’re fighting for the best quality of life.’ And, once she made that decision, she embraced it.”

Andrea's mom and sons
Andrea’s mom and sons

Susan shared her wishes with her family and got busy making a bucket list of all the things she wanted to accomplish with her time left. She set sights on buying her grandchildren a golf cart, something they’d been saving for years to buy.

Her second goal was to go to the ocean and walk in the sand. And, finally, she dreamed of going camping one last time.

“Once my mom quit chemo and with the support of the hospice team, she had the best quality of life that she had in years,” Andrea gently praised.

Susan visited with the hospice team’s chaplain regularly. Andrea recalls, “She was terrified to die because she started questioning everything … her beliefs. The chaplain really helped her through that internal struggle.”

With her family’s help, Susan accomplished all three of her goals. Although she wasn’t well enough to travel to the ocean herself, her family brought beach sand to her. She was able to enjoy just two days shy of 12 weeks of spending time with the ones she loved.

“I’m just so grateful she agreed to go on hospice when she did because that time is something that will never, ever be taken away from us,” thanked Andrea. “I’m a nurse. I was taking primary care of my mom. Hospice allowed me to just be the daughter and my mom’s best friend again.”

CentraCare’s Hospice team has also maintained contact with Andrea throughout her grieving process. It’s part of a 13-month approach to healing aimed at helping people get through all the first major milestones without their loved ones.

Andrea’s experience of losing both of her parents varied drastically. That’s why she is advocating for people to make their final wishes known and have those difficult conversations with their families.

CentraCare’s Home Health, Hospice and Palliative care teams know that it can be a difficult subject to talk about. Andrea’s mom fought against Home Health and Palliative Care because she was afraid of the stigma and saw it as a precursor to dying.

Andrea hopes people will see past the stigmas and instead make the most of the time they have with their families.

“If you can take one thing away from your loved one’s plate and just give them that reassurance that this is what you want, I think that is the best gift someone could give,” Andrea advised.