Oprah Winfrey is reflecting on her final words to her mother, Vernita Lee.
In an essay she wrote for the May issue of O, the Oprah Magazine, the television icon, 65, looked back at the internal struggle she faced over what her final goodbye would be to Vernita in her last days of life.
Vernita passed away at age 83 on Thanksgiving in 2018, but Oprah knew prior to her death her mother did not have much longer.
‘To finish the unfinished business with my mother’: Oprah Winfrey is reflecting on her final words to her mother, Vernita Lee
‘We had a complicated relationship, my mother and I – this I know for sure. Now that she’s gone, I understand it more clearly,’ wrote Oprah, who had made several visits to her mother just before her death.
‘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,’ she wrote.
Oprah then traveled to Massachusetts in order to fulfill a speaking engagement, but instead of returning to her home in California once that was over, she headed back to Milwaukee to be by her mother’s side.
This time, Oprah was determined to end things with Vernita the right way.
Determined: Oprah wrote about returning to be by her mother’s side for a second shot at expressing herself (pictured in 1994)
‘I returned to close it. To finish the unfinished business with my mother,’ she wrote. ‘I spent another day in the hot room just sitting and watching Family Feud on a loop. ‘
Still, the talk show host struggled to express her true emotions.
‘I was empty of thoughts and feelings. That night I went to bed and prayed for the right words to come. Words without judgment or a hint of resentment.
‘”What is my truth?,” I kept asking. The truth I need to speak to her to bring peace to us both?’
History: Born in 1935, Vernita was still a teen when she gave birth to Oprah with Vernon Winfrey (Lee pictured in 1995)
The idea would eventually hit Oprah after her phone coincidentally started playing the song, Take My Hand, Precious Lord the next morning.
The music inspired Oprah to contact gospel singer Wintley Phipps, who she asked to sing to her mother over FaceTime.
After Wintley sang Take My Hand, Precious Lord to Vernita, the words came to Oprah.
Lunch time: Vernita, in a picture shared by her niece, Alisha
‘Looking directly into her eyes, I said these words: “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.”‘
Born in 1935, Vernita was still a teen when she gave birth to Oprah with Vernon Winfrey.
Inspiration: Vernita actually named her daughter Orpah, after a biblical character in the Book of Ruth, but it was mispronounced so frequently she was eventually called ‘Oprah’
Vernita actually named her daughter Orpah, after a biblical character in the Book of Ruth, but it was mispronounced so frequently she was eventually called ‘Oprah’.
She left the infant to be raised by her own mother Hattie Mae Lee in Mississippi, while she worked away from home in Milwaukee as a housemaid.
Vernita and her famous daughter had a difficult relationship at times, with Oprah once revealing that she chose never again to have children ‘because I wasn’t mothered well’.
But she later made amends with Vernita and, in one touching 1990 episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, the talk show host gave her mother a makeover.
Touching: Oprah later made amends with Vernita and, in one touching 1990 episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, the talk show host gave her mother a makeover (pictured February 2018)