By Dave Andrusko
A tip of the hat to Micaiah Bilger of Life News who alerted readers to an honest- to-goodness fascinating “exclusive” interview Oprah Winfrey gave to People magazine where (as the magazine describes it) she “opened up” about the last days of her mother’s life.
Vernita Lee died on Thanksgiving, and Winfrey describes their last time together as “really sacred and beautiful.”
From a pro-lifer’s perspective, there is this (to be very generous) dramatic disconnect between Winfrey’s ceaseless promotion of abortion in her magazine (see the obnoxious “ “Shout Your Abortion” campaign, for example) and her admiration for her own single-parent mother’s courage and fortitude in the worst of circumstances when she could have aborted Winfrey.
As Winfrey tells People’s Mary Green, she struggled to find the right words to say as her mother’s death was clearly approaching. Some of the specifics are so tender, so caring, so human, you’re near tears.
After staying in her room an entire day, Winfrey hadn’t found the words:
“I waited for a way to say what I wanted to say,” she says. “I couldn’t find it that day. The next morning I woke up, and I was actually praying for ‘What is a way I can have this conversation about the end? How do I close it?’ I just thought, ‘What is the truth for me? What is it that I need to say?’”
Her 83-year-old mother, a Christian, loved music, and after playing Mahalia Jackson’s “Precious Lord, ” Winfrey called “Wintley Phipps (Gospel singer), a really great friend of mine.”
I thought, ‘What if I call Wintley and got him to sing ‘Precious Lord’ to her?’ I called Wintley, and asked him to FaceTime. He sang ‘Precious Lord’ live to her.”
All of us who have been present when someone dies, especially a loved one, knows there is often so much left unsaid. To avoid that, what did Winfrey tell her mother in those last hours?
“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.’”
The sidebar story, of course, is that unbeknownst to Winfrey until relatively recently, her mother, who gave birth to four children, had placed a sister for adoption in 1963. That decision was a source of tension and guilt for Vernita Lee.
Which is why she had she never told Winfrey.
Winfrey’s mother said she never told the talk show host about the adoption “because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“I made the decision to give her up because I was unable to totally take care of her,” she said.
Winfrey told Green, “To my mother, I say, ‘You can let this shame go.’” Her half-sister, Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, also forgave her mother, probably a large part of the reason why Winfrey called the moment “really sacred and beautiful.”
At that final juncture, as mentioned above, Winfrey asked herself, “What is the truth for me? What is it that I need to say?” to her mother who had led a very hardscrabble life until Winfrey experienced fame and fortune.
One truth Winfrey could acknowledge is that her mother’s bravery is the reason she is alive with a net worth of nearly $3 billion dollars. But her life would be no less precious to her if Winfrey had been a maid, just like her mother.
“Shout your abortion”? I think not. “Shout my mother’s courage” is more like it.