Oprah Winfrey is preparing for her first Mother's Day without her late mother, Vernita Lee.
Lee died last Thanksgiving Day at her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In an emotional essay for O, The Oprah Magazine, Winfrey reflects on how she said goodbye to her mom in her final days. She acknowledges the two didn't always have the best relationship, and admits she struggled with what to say to her.
"We had a complicated relationship, my mother and I -- this I know for sure," she writes. "Now that she’s gone, I understand it more clearly. 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."
Still, the 65-year-old media mogul grasped the urgency of the situation, and says she dropped everything at her home in California to visit her mother again in Milwaukee.
"Don’t be a hypocrite, I chided myself," she writes. "If this were anyone else, you’d tell them 'Leave nothing unsaid' -- and yet you’ve said nothing."
Winfrey says she prayed for the right words to say. Later, she ended up getting inspiration from late singer Mahalia Jackson's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" -- which she, amazingly enough, accidentally played on her phone by hitting the music app -- and got her friend, gospel singer Wintley Phipps, to sing the song a cappella to her mother over FaceTime. After Phipps prayed for the family and said, "Have no fear, just peace," Winfrey found the words to say to her dying mother.
“I know it must have been hard for you as a 17-year-old pregnant, scared girl in Mississippi," Winfrey recalls she said to her mother, looking directly into her eyes. "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."
Lee is also survived by her younger daughter, Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, whom she gave up for adoption in 1963. Patricia reunited with the family in 2010. Winfrey revealed her sister's own final words to their mother.
“Please forgive yourself for giving me away," she says Patricia told their mother. "I have forgiven you. I came back. We are your daughters, and we are here to help ease the transition. We are your daughters. We thank you for life."
Lee's son, Jeffrey Lee, died in 1989 and her other daughter, Patricia Lee Lloyd, died in 2003. Aside from Winfrey and her sister, Lee is survived by her four grandchildren -- Alisha Hayes, Chrishaunda Lee Perez, Aquarius Lofton and Andre Brown -- and four great grandchildren -- Jaxon Praise Perez, Chai Theresa Perez, Donovan Hayes and Trinity Hayes.
Last November, Winfrey shared a family photo on Instagram, and said her mother was at peace now.
"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."