Oprah Winfrey’s mother Vernita Lee has passed away, but despite the pair’s initially rocky relationship, the media mogul learned a powerful lesson from the woman who gave her life.
In a 2011 interview, shortly after meeting her long-lost half-sister, Patricia, Winfrey and her sister sat down with Lee, who revealed that she’d struggled with the shame of giving Patricia up for adoption.
After leaving her mother’s house, Winfrey realized, “[My mother] is still carrying the shame that would have been put upon her in 1963, and therefore, she hasn’t been able to release herself to fully embrace [Patricia] and embrace this miracle that has really happened in our family.”
Patricia, who’d gone to the tabloids to reveal that Winfrey herself had given up a child after becoming pregnant at 14 following sexual abuse, also initially had a rocky relationship with Winfrey. Fortunately, the pair were able to patch things up and the media mogul realized that her shame was similar to her mother’s.
“For the first time, I realized that that was a gift to me,” she continued. “Pat, going to the tabloids and telling the story about my having the baby, was a gift because it released me from the shame that my mother still carries today. I thought, had she not done that, I would still be exactly where my mother is—stuck in the shame.”
Addressing her mother during a televised reunion with Patricia, Winfrey added, “You can let that go. You can let the shame go. There are millions of people all over this country who are just like you, who have given up their children because they knew at the time that they could not provide the best for them. So, Vernita, you can let that go.”