Oprah Winfrey opened up about the last words she spoke to her mom before the latter died last year. Winfrey also related the struggles she went through before finding those words and why she called herself a “hypocrite.”
The media mogul lost her mom, Vernita Lee, on Thanksgiving in 2018 and in an essay for the May 2019 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, Winfrey reveals she visited Lee regularly in the days leading to her death.
While she binge-watched several TV series and game shows with the ailing woman, Winfrey confessed she was not able to say anything significant because of their complicated relationship.
“When I left her on my second visit of the week, I was certain it was the last time I’d see her. Still, I could think of nothing more meaningful to say than “Goodbye, I’ll see you later.” Pitiful for someone who’s made a career of connecting with people. … ‘Don’t be a hypocrite,’ I chided myself. If this were anyone else, you’d tell them ‘Leave nothing unsaid’—and yet you’ve said nothing.’”
Winfrey would go on to attend a speaking engagement, but instead of flying home to California, she returned to her mother’s Milwaukee abode, determined to “finish the unfinished business.”
Winfrey, 65, said she went to bed praying for the right words to come and when she woke the next day, accidentally played Mahalia Jackson’s “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”
The gospel tune inspired Winfrey to call Wintley Phipps, her friend who is also a gospel singer. Phipps sang the song to Lee, and it was his parting words “Have no fear, just peace,” that helped Winfrey with hers.
The TV icon then told her mother:
“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.”
Winfrey has been vocal about her difficult childhood and complicated relationship with her birth mother. As a struggling teenager, Lee left an infant Winfrey to be raised by her own mother in Mississippi while she worked as a maid in Milwaukee.
According to Daily Mail, Winfrey once revealed that she chose never to have children "because I wasn't mothered well," but she would later mend her relationship with Lee.
"Thank you all for your kind words and condolences regarding my mother Vernita Lee's passing,” Winfrey wrote in November as she paid tribute to her late mom on social media. “It gives our family great comfort knowing she lived a good life and is now at Peace.”