Oprah Winfrey opens up on saying goodbye to her late mother, Vernita Lee in Milwaukee

(CBSNews) -- Oprah Winfrey is talking about how she said goodbye to her late mother, Vernita Lee. Lee died at age 83 at her home in Milwaukee on Thanksgiving Day.

Winfrey told People she was able to spend time with her mother in her final days, and searched for inspiration about what to say as the end neared.

"I just thought, 'What is the truth for me? There isn't going to be an answer in a book. What is it that I need to say?' I was praying for a way in," she said.

Winfrey explained that she always sees her life's events as teaching moments. She said, "There's not a thing that happens to me, that I don't look at it as a teaching, learning, experience. I knew my mother was dying. I got a call from my sister (Patricia, who Lee gave up for adoption in 1963) that she thought it was the end. I was planning to go to launch Michelle Obama's book, 'Becoming,' in Chicago. I hopped on a plane and I went early—I surprised my mother."

Winfrey said her mother was sitting in a warm room where she watched TV, adding, "She's had nurses and so forth over the years. Even when she didn't need nurses, she's had nurses. She just liked having all these people."

The media mogul said she and her mother spoke frankly about death.

"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." Winfrey said she then started notifying loved ones that Lee knew it was "the end" and that they should come say goodbye.

"And that's what happened. People would come in. She would tear up when she saw them. You could see the appreciation and love she felt for them," Winfrey said. "Then, I said to her, 'What a wonderful thing to be able to say goodbye,' because she's completely coherent and perfectly understanding everything." 

The "Wrinkle in Time" star said that she played Lee's favorite music, including Mahalia Jackson and Joshua Nelson, and even surprised her with a live FaceTime performance by gospel singer Wintley Phipps. Winfrey also told People her last words to her mother.

"What I said was, 'Thank you. Thank you, because I know it's been hard for you,'" she said. "'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.'"

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