Oprah Winfrey sat down for an exclusive interview with People Magazine and shared the heartbreaking story of the entertainment mogul’s last moments with her ailing mother. Winfrey lost her mother, Vernita Lee, on Thanksgiving day due to complications from diabetes. Oprah shared that she had known her mother was dying, and she stopped in to surprise her mother in Milwaukee, while heading to Chicago to help launch Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming.
During her visit, Oprah asked her mother if she knew she was dying, and her mother responded that she was, indeed, aware. Oprah then called on family members and friends to visit with Vernita and say their final goodbyes. Winfrey had to head to Boston for a speaking engagement and recalled standing in the doorway, reflecting on her final moments with her mother.
“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,” Winfrey confessed.
After attending her speaking engagement in Boston, Winfrey cleared her calendar and flew straight back to Milwaukee. She joined her mother in one of her favorite daily past times, watching soap operas. They sat together for days, and although Winfrey felt as though she was losing her mind, she held on and stayed by her mother’s side.
Oprah struggled with finding the right words to say to Vernita. She started brainstorming and playing gospel music, looking for some kind of inspiration. She then made a call to her friend, Gospel singer Wintley Phipps, who sang to her mother on FaceTime. That opened the door for Winfrey to be able to begin to talk to Vernita about closing their chapter together on this earth.
“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. 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 recalled.
Winfrey’s sister, Patricia, who was put up for adoption shortly after being born, also said her final goodbyes. She told her mother to forgive herself for placing her up for adoption, and that Patricia had forgiven her for giving her away.