news

The poignant final words Oprah Winfrey said to her dying mum.

Oprah Winfrey has spoken of how she struggled to find the right words to say goodbye to her mother Vernita Lee when she died on Thanksgiving Day last month.

The talk show queen told People that she had not one, but two attempts at saying goodbye and even turned to a hospice pamphlet on death for help.

The 64-year-old recalled how her sister told her that their mum may be about to pass away, so before and after launching Michelle Obama’s book Becoming in Chicago she went to her mum’s home in Milwaukee a few hours’ drive north.

Oprah described how her mother, 83, had refused dialysis to help treat her diabetes a few years earlier and as a result, her kidneys were slowly losing their function.

“I went and we did the launch,” she recalls. “Then, I came back to Milwaukee. I sat with my mother. I said, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to make it. Do you think you’re going to make it?’

“She said, ‘I don’t think I am.’ I had a conversation with her about what that felt like, what it felt like to be near the end.”

Oprah then called other family and friends to say their goodbyes, and when it came time for her own, she said it felt final.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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.'”

However, after the speaking engagement she had been forced to rush to finished, her mother was still hanging on and she decided to go back to Milwaukee.

“I felt like I had not closed it. I felt like I knew it was the end, but I wanted to make sure she knew it was the end, and that I said everything I wanted to say.”

But when it came to actually saying those words, she struggled.

“In hospice care they have a little book about the little conversations. I thought, ‘Isn’t this strange? I am Oprah Winfrey, and I’m reading a hospice care book on what to say at the end.'”

She said she was inspired by a gospel song ‘Precious Lord’ and decided to get the artist, Mahalia Jackson, on the phone to sing it to her mother.

She told People the music gave her the “opening” she needed “to say what I needed to say”.

“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.'”

Oprah said she also told her mother that she should be able to go in peace. And after her sister, whom Vernita had put up for adoption as a young woman, told her she forgave her, she did.

“It was just really sacred and beautiful.”

Oprah encouraged anyone else to tell their loved ones important message while their alive, “so that you are not one of those people living with regret about what you would’ve, should’ve, could’ve said”.

Oprah had a complicated with her mother, who gave birth to her when she was just 17. While under her care, she was sexually abused as a child.

When often asked over the years why she chose not to have children as an adult, Oprah said she didn’t want to be a mum she herself wasn’t “mothered well”.

Years later Oprah was able to forgive her mother for the pain of her childhood and the two reconnected.

00:00 / ???