Oprah fans brace for final send-off

Legion of fans are mourning the demise of the trendsetting Oprah Winfrey Show, which airs its final episode Wednesday afternoon after 25 years on the air.
Devoted Oprah fans watch Beyonce perform in one of the star studded final shows. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

Torontonian Tanya Lee began watching the Oprah Winfrey Show as a teen mom when she was struggling with the stigma of young pregnancy.

"It really helped me get through my teenage pregnancy," says Lee, whose daughter is now 20.

Out of a difficult time a close connection was borne — one that would culminate in Lee making headlines for her ultimately fruitless attempt late last year to woo Oprah via a Facebook page to visit Canada in her final season.

A true devotee, Lee refuses to say farewell to the woman who has guided her on how to become a better mother, despite the fact that the final episode airs Wednesday.

"It's not a goodbye," says Lee, resolutely. "She's evolving. She's turning into her new chapter."

A life coach herself, Lee sees Oprah as a teacher whose lessons are eternal and will last for generations to come.

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What's more, she is not alone among Oprah's legion of fans in not mourning the demise of the trendsetting show, 25 years after it first aired.

It helps, no doubt, that reruns will air for several months, that Oprah's eponymous magazine will continue publication and her show's spinoffs will come to reside on the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN for short.

But it may also help to have had Oprah's incessant drilling of life lessons. Never was a fan base so prepared to deal with the pain of farewell as Oprah's.

Miss the daily habit

Testament to that fact is O Magazine's latest edition, in which a three-page advice column by author Martha Beck teaches readers "how to make all your goodbyes good indeed."

In it, Beck acknowledges that endings — both big and small —  can make lives feel "barren and dry" but that "any sorrow can be the parent of a joy we've never imagined." Every happiness, Beck argues, can be traced to unhappy roots, and she outlines six steps for realizing how to make the most out of any unhappy ending.

Prasanna Ranganathan shows off his office bedecked in Oprah paraphernalia.

Lessons like these are the fodder on which Oprah's fervent fans feed.

Prasanna Ranganathan, 30, of Ottawa says he will miss the daily rush home from work to watch the Oprah show — while shouting out the day's theme to colleagues as he leaves.

"I'm going to miss that sense of comfort and normalcy that the show provided," Ranganathan admits.

Watching the show over the past two decades helped him maintain a bond with his mother while attending law school.

He appeared in the studio audience last March after promising his mother to get tickets. In a post-show discussion, he asked Oprah a question about the Oscars.

An entertaining video  of the question and Oprah's answer — dubbed by Ranganathan as his "proudest moment" ever — was posted to the show's website.

A lawyer for the federal justice department, Ranganathan once applied for the show's Ultimate Male Fan challenge and likes to jokingly refer to himself as 'O-Pras'. 

But the lawyer is serious when he talks about the effect of the Oprah show on his day-to-day life, saying it's led to more gratitude and the knowledge that "I am, as a person, enough."

Live the advice

What's important now, he says, is how fans move forward after 25 years of having Oprah at their sides.

"Now that we've had all these years of inspiration and information, how can we actualize that in our lives?" asks Ranganathan. "So what can I do every day to live my best life and help those who perhaps haven't been given all the opportunities that I've been given."

Indeed, Lorraine York, who taught a course at McMaster University called The Oprah Effect, thinks actions by fans like Ranganathan will be the true litmus test of Oprah's legacy.

"The test will be to see if what she has taught in terms of either self-management or literacy, if these things survive the show itself," says York, a professor of English and Cultural Studies.

Oprah has "always said she sees the show as a means to greater ends. And well, we'll see what the evidence is."

York, who has seen her fair share of hard-core Oprah fans as well as critics in her classes, thinks the Oprah fandom was in need of a farewell.

"I think in some ways it's a good thing for people who have these really fervent attachments to have those attachments, even if temporarily, ruptured," says York.

For many Oprah devotees, that moment of rupture will likely be a solitary, intimate one-on-one session between the viewer and Oprah when the final show airs Wednesday.

"Think about your best friend, your mentor, somebody you've looked up to all your life. And they're leaving," says Lee.

"You kind of don't know what to do with yourself. You don't know who's going to be there to fill that void," said Lee. "It's a relationship ending. And with people, with relationships ending, they're going to go through a period of mourning, period."

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Lee is on a birthday trip visiting her sister in Florida and will watch the final show with her daughter and sister.

York will be at a work meeting during the show, but plans to tape it.

Ranganathan planned to have a finale party with friends, but he now finds himself in Turks and Caicos Islands on a business trip and will likely watch the show alone.

He thinks that might be for the best.

"I'll be watching it by myself and just reflecting back on where it's traced the milestones of my life," he says. 

His advice for those struggling to say goodbye? "Savour the memories of what was awesome about the experience and what you learned from the experience, and try to use it to inspire your life and give your life purpose and meaning as you move forward."

It is the kind of advice that may be the best evidence of Oprah's legacy.