by Charise Frazier via MadameNoire.com
Oprah Winfrey is opening up about the last days she spent with her mother before she died on Thanksgiving day.
Winfrey’s mother Vernita Lee, 83, died on November 22 after a long battle with diabetes, the media mogul revealed. Lee passed away at home in Milwaukee. Winfrey also revealed her deepest thoughts and fears knowing that she would have to lay the woman who gave birth to her to rest.
“In hospice care they have a little book about the little conversations,” Winfrey said to People in an exclusive interview. “I thought, ‘Isn’t this strange? I am Oprah Winfrey, and I’m reading a hospice care book on what to say at the end.’”
“I just thought, ‘What is the truth for me? There isn’t going to be an answer in a book. What is it that I need to say?’ I was praying for a way in,” she continued.
Winfrey recounted flying home to visit her mother after her sister Patricia called to say their mother was near transitioning. At the time she recalled finding a moment to be with her mother as she was scheduled to host the launch of Michelle Obama’s book tour.
“This is the beauty of my life,” she says. “There’s not a thing that happens to me, that I don’t look at it as a teaching, learning, experience. I knew my mother was dying. I got a call from my sister (Patricia, who Lee gave up for adoption in 1963) that she thought it was the end. I was planning to go to launch Michelle Obama‘s book, Becoming, in Chicago. I hopped on a plane and I went early—I surprised my mother.”
“She’s sitting in this little room—she loves sitting in this room where it’s 80 degrees,” Winfrey says. “She just watches TV all day… She’s had nurses and so forth over the years. Even when she didn’t need nurses, she’s had nurses. She just liked having all these people.”
After hosting the launch with Obama, Winfrey said she flew back home and realized it was near the end.
“I sat with my mother. I said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to make it. Do you think you’re going to make it?’ She said, ‘I don’t think I am.’ I had a conversation with her about what that felt like, what it felt like to be near the end. I started telling all the people who cared about her that, ‘She knows it’s the end, so, if you want to say goodbye, you should come and say goodbye.’”
She said due to another scheduling conflict she flew to Boston, but cancelled upcoming meetings she had at home in California. But before she left, she mustered up enough courage to say goodbye.
“I stood in the doorway and I said, ‘goodbye.’ I knew it was going to be the last time we said goodbye, although I didn’t say to her, ‘This is the last time I’m going to say goodbye,” she said.
However, she said the last moment did not sit well with her so she flew back to Milwaukee to see her mother for a final time.
I went back. I sat in that hot room,” Winfrey says chuckling at the memory. “I watched The Bold and the Beautiful. I watched The Young and the Restless. I watched The Price is Right. I watched Steve Harvey on the Game Channel. I watched it in a loop. I sat in the room, and I sat in the room. I was about to lose my fricking mind in that room, but I sat.”
“I waited for a way to say what I wanted to say,” she said. “I couldn’t find it that day. The next morning I woke up, and I was actually praying for, ‘What is a way I can have this conversation about the end? How do I close it?’ I just thought, ‘What is the truth for me? What is it that I need to say?’”
Winfrey said she turned to music playing some of her mother’s favorites Mahalia Jackson, Whintley Phipps and Joshua Nelson, which she could tell lifted her mother’s spirits.
“What I said was, ‘Thank you. Thank you, because I know it’s been hard for you. It was hard for you as a young girl having a baby, in Mississippi,” she said. “No education. No training. No skills. Seventeen, you get pregnant with this baby. Lots of people would have told you to give that baby away. Lots of people would’ve told you to abort that baby. You didn’t do that. I know that was hard. I want you to know that no matter what, I know that you always did the best you knew how to do. And look how it turned out.’”
Winfrey’s sister Patricia was also able to make peace with her mother before she died in the hostel room.
“In that moment, my sister was in the room. My mother’s had real problems since my sister came back from the adoption. My sister said, ‘Please forgive yourself, because I’ve forgiven you for giving me away.’ It was just really sacred and beautiful. I would say to anybody—and if you live long enough, everybody goes through it—say the things that you need to say while the people are still alive, so that you are not one of those people living with regret about what you would’ve, should’ve, could’ve said.”