Oprah Winfrey's Struggle over Her 'Last Goodbye' to Late Mom Ahead of Mother's Day

Even a talk show host like Oprah Winfrey struggles to find the right words when she knows it will matter the most. Winfrey shared her preparation for her mother’s death, including the final words she said to her. 

On the May issue of “O, the Oprah Magazine,” Winfrey shared the difficulty she experienced during her final goodbye with her mother, Vernita, as her life was coming to an end. 

CLOSE TO THE END

During her last days, Winfrey would fly to Milwaukee to visit her mother, three times a week. The host knew her mother’s death was nearing as it showed in how she projected herself - weak, weary, and resigned.

The mother and daughter sat together watching “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “The Young and the Restless,” and “Family Feud,” on their big-screen television when Winfrey asked her mother if she would get through this.

Nurse Judy, Vernita’s caregiver for the last 14 years, came into the room. She too knew the end was near. As she came closer, Winfrey’s mother held her as tears rolled down her face. No words were uttered, but the host knew they were tears of gratitude.

On Thanksgiving Day last year, Winfrey’s mother, 83, died in her home. She had a private funeral, and the cause of her death was not revealed.

‘LEAVE NOTHING UNSAID’

As she left after her second visit, Winfrey was almost sure it would be the last time she would see her mother, yet she couldn’t pull together the right words for a goodbye. Instead, she said:

“Goodbye, I’ll see you later.”

She left to speak in Lowell, Massachusetts, a prior commitment she has scheduled. The relationship guru and philanthropist couldn’t help but think that her words of goodbye were not the words she wanted to say.

“If this were anyone else, you’d tell them ‘Leave nothing unsaid’ -- and yet you’ve said nothing,” she told herself.

PREPARING FOR GOODBYE

She canceled all her appointments after Lowell and headed straight to Milwaukee. She knew there was more left unsaid, and it couldn’t be goodbye without the right words being spoken. Upon arriving, Winfrey spent the day watching “Family Feud” on a loop.

She sought help from the hospice manual, looking at suggestions about what to say, and when that didn’t help, she prayed for the right words to dawn upon her; words that were just and kind; words that would express her truth.

The next day, Winfrey accidentally opened the music application on her phone which played “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” by Mahalia Jackson. This sparked an idea in her to ask Wintley Phipps, acclaimed gospel singer, to sing to her mom over the phone.

Wintley ended with a prayer for Vernita and her family.

“Have no fear, just peace.”

THE LAST WORDS 

After the call, Winfrey knew exactly what to say. She looked into her dying mother’s eyes and said: 

“I know it must have been hard for you as a 17-year-old pregnant, scared girl in Mississippi. Many people no doubt told you to get rid of that baby. To have an abortion or give me away. But you didn’t. And for that I thank you. I know you did the best you could with what you had. And for that I thank you. And look how it’s all turned out.”

On Thanksgiving Day last year, Winfrey’s mother, 83, died in her home. She had a private funeral, and the cause of her death was not revealed.

Vernita had two children, Jeffery Lee who passed away in 1989, and Patricia Lee Lloyd who died in 2003. The death of kids was painful for her, yet she was able to deal with through Christianity.

After Winfrey opened up about her struggle before her mom’s passing, different people reached out to the host who moved her and brought her happiness. One of those people was Jimmy Fallon, whose mother died in 2007, relating to Winfrey’s experience and jokingly told her to tell her mom to contact Fallon’s mom.  

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