Queen Latifah is saying goodbye to the person she loved the most.
Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens, passed away on Wednesday after struggling with a heart condition for more than a decade, she announced in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE.
“It is with a heavy heart that I share the news my mother, Rita Owens passed away today,” says Latifah. “Anyone that has ever met her knows what a bright light she was on this earth. She was gentle, but strong, sweet, but sassy, worldy but pragmatic, a woman of great faith and certainly the love of my life.”
“She had struggled with a heart condition for many years and her battle is now over,” Latifah shares. “I am heartbroken but know she is at peace. Thank you for your kindness, support and respect for our privacy at this time. Much Love, Dana Owens (aka Queen Latifah), forever Rita Owens’ daughter.”
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In September, the Girl’s Trip actress opened up about her mother’s years-long battle.
“I’ve just learned how much you can love a person and just how strong my mother is,” she shared of her mother during a sit-down with PEOPLE Now. “I’ve come to respect her in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs. Owens told PEOPLE in 2015 that proper medication, a defibrillator implanted in her chest to avert a heart attack and a diet low in salt and fats but heavy on vegetables enabled her to live with the condition.
“I watched her come through so many things, ups and downs, hospitalizations – I mean really being in the ICU for that matter – you know, going through tough times and watching her come back and bounce back and still maintain this sense of humor, and love and drive and will,” Latifah said of Owens. “I just love her so much more, I respect her so much more. She really just gives me hope for life and the world.”
Latifah first revealed to PEOPLE in 2015 that when she’s not in California, she stays at her mother’s home in New Jersey, sharing caregiving duties with relatives and a nurse.
“As a caregiver – it’s just like being a parent, like some things really don’t matter,” Latifah said. “All the kind of frivolous things sort of fall to the side because there’s something way more important than all that. And when we go through these things together as a family, I realize, these are the important things, these are the important moments.”
She continued, “Whatever some tabloid printed means nothing, money doesn’t mean anything, work is great – I work so that I can take care of my family – but the family is the most important thing.”
- With reporting by JULIE JORDAN