Oprah Winfrey has opened up about the death of her mother, Vernita Lee, at age 83 on Thanksgiving.
In an interview with People magazine published Wednesday, the media mogul, 64, says that shortly before attending the Nov. 13 book launch for Michelle Obama's memoir "Becoming," Winfrey received a call from her sister, Patricia, saying their mother appeared to be in her last days. Winfrey flew to Milwaukee, where Lee was in hospice care.
"I hopped on a plane and I went early — I surprised my mother," Winfrey says. The following day, she went to Chicago for the launch, then returned 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. I started telling all the people who cared about her that, 'She knows it's the end, so, if you want to say goodbye, you should come and say goodbye.' "
When friends and others arrived, "She would tear up when she saw them," Winfrey says. "You could see the appreciation and love she felt for them."
Believing death was imminent for her mother — a diabetic who three years earlier had chosen to forgo dialysis — "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.' "
Yet after doing two speaking engagements and canceling several meetings, Winfrey returned to Milwaukee, feeling she had more to say. Struggling for the right words, she spent the day with her mother watching television. The following morning, Winfrey played some of her mother's favorite music for her and felt ready to speak.
"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.' "
She added, "Then I told her, 'You should be able to … you should go in peace. … What you want it to be, what I want it to be, is as peaceful as possible.' "
Now, Winfrey says, "I feel complete. … I feel like it was as sacred and as blessed as a passing can be."
Winfrey on Nov. 26 posted an Instagram photo of Lee with her and a large group of family and friends. "Thank you all for your kind words and condolences regarding my mother Vernita Lee's passing," she wrote. "It gives our family great comfort knowing she lived a good life and is now at Peace."