Lorraine Brown blazed a trail for nurses, including the woman who became her hospice nurse
Lorraine Brown's path to becoming a nurse paved the way for others to come.
BLOOMING PRAIRIE, Minn. — The day before Lorraine Brown died, her daughter, Jeanne White, took a picture of her mom with the hospice nurse who was caring for her.
In the photo, nurse Mindy Ohm is lovingly holding Brown's hand, bringing comfort and care to a patient in her last hours of life.
For White, the picture told a deeper, intergenerational story: How gifts and skills are passed on from generation to generation. How life often comes full circle.
Brown had been Ohm's inspiration for becoming a nurse in the first place. It was Brown who taught Ohm how to be a nurse.
Brown and Ohm first met more than two decades ago. Ohm was a young certified nursing assistant, and Brown was a veteran managing nurse at Saint Mary's Nursing Home in Austin, Minn. Later, after Ohm earned her nursing degree, Brown trained and mentored her.
"She was one of the nurses that made me believe that I wanted to be a nurse," said Ohm, now a registered nurse case manager for St. Croix Hospice. "She was the nurse I always strive to be."
Brown's path to becoming a nurse was groundbreaking for a married woman of her era. In the 1960s, focused on raising four children, Brown played the role of a traditional stay-at-home mom. But she yearned for something more.
Once her children reached school age, Brown jumped into the job market. She received her LPN license in 1971 when she was in her mid-30s. She earned her RN degree in 1978, the same year her daughter graduated from Blooming Prairie High School.
Brown would blaze a trail for other women in the Brown clan. Like her mom, Jeanne was in her 30s when she went back to school to become a nurse. A sister-in-law and niece also followed suit. Brown believed that an education was "priceless," White said.
"She loved the nursing profession. Just loved people in general," White said of her mother.
Through the years, until her retirement in 2011, Brown worked at a number of medical facilities. They included Owatonna Hospital, St. Olaf Hospital, St. Mark's Nursing Home and Prairie Manor in Blooming Prairie, Minn., where she worked until she was 76 and later lived as a resident and then a hospice patient.
"She was one of the nurses that made me believe that I wanted to be a nurse. She was the nurse I always strive to be." "
— Mindy Ohm
Last October, Brown took a fall and her health declined. She was taken to the Austin hospital. While waiting for word on her mom's condition, White began chatting with the nurses there. She mentioned that her mom once worked as a labor delivery nurse at Austin and Owatonna hospitals. If you were born between 1979 and 1996, in all likelihood, it was Brown who helped bring you into the world, White told the nurses.
The next day, Brown suffered a heart attack. White rushed to the hospital. Brown wanted to talk to her family before she was flown to Rochester.
"She wanted to talk to us before she left. When we got there, we're like, 'Yes, Mom, you need to go,'" White recalled. "As they were taking her down the hallway, the previous nurse that I talked to the day before said, 'We just all love Lorraine up here, and we decided that she was the one that delivered us when we were born.'"
Brown ended up living another year after that episode.
"She had that strong-will attitude that pulled her through that," White said.
In hospice care, Brown didn't instantly recognize her old protégé, since Ohm was in protective gear, including a face mask and goggles. But once Ohm mentioned St. Mark's and their work together, Brown remembered her.
"She had a very sharp memory," Ohm said. "She wasn't with us long (after entering hospice). But I think every visit from then on, we did reminisce for at least half an hour each visit. Just talking about people we knew."
Ohm had run into Brown only infrequently over the years. But Brown, even in her decline, was still the strong-willed, determined woman she remembered. She wasn't wearing the makeup she used to wear. Her hair was worn differently. She wasn't wearing scrubs. But she still had that "fire in her eyes, that thirst for life."
Early on in her hospice care, Brown told Ohm that she was struggling with the idea of her own mortality. But by her fourth or fifth visit, Brown told her that she was "ready, and I think my family is ready."
Ohm said she made a point of visiting Brown two or three times a week, but as the end neared, she visited more frequently. On the day Brown died, Ohm visited twice to make sure Brown was comfortable, that her pain was under control, and that staff was there to support her.
Brown, 85, died Sept. 10.
Ohm said she mourns Brown's passing but celebrates her life. Brown was a "remarkable lady" who lived the life she wanted.
"She was very strong and intelligent. My life is just one of the many lives she affected. I know many coworkers would say the same thing," Ohm said. "She helped them become the nurses and the people they are now."