Oprah Winfrey has opened up about the death of her mother on Thanksgiving, Essence reports. Vernita Lee died on 23 November at the age of 83.
In an exclusive interview with People magazine, the media mogul admits that she tried to make Vernita’s final days “sacred and as blessed as a passing can be”.
Her mother was living in a hospice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the final days of her life.
Recounting her last few days, Oprah (64) says she received a phone call from her sister Patricia who suspected that the end was near. So she flew to Milwaukee to be with her mother, “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 remembers.
“She’s sitting in this little room—she loves sitting in this room where it’s 80 degrees. 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 that meeting Oprah went to the book launch but the next day cancelled all her plans to be with her mother so she could have one final goodbye. On that final day, she remembers how she called gospel singer Wintley Phipps to sing her favourite song Precious Lord.
It was during that moment that Oprah also took time to thank her mother for all the sacrifices she made.
“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.’
“Then I told her, ‘You should be able to … you should go in peace.’ I told her because my mother has had diabetes. Three years ago she knew she should’ve had dialysis and she didn’t want to do it. It was her choice not to do it. I said (at the time), ‘You should do whatever your body tells you to do. Nobody’s going to force you to do what you don’t want to do.’ I said, ‘You made the best decision for you, but now your body’s shutting down. This is what’s happening. Your kidneys have shut down. Your organs are going to shut down. What you want it to be, what I want it to be, is as peaceful as possible.'”
Vernita is survived by daughter’s Oprah and Patricia Amanda, along with four grandchildren.8