In Memory of Joan Rivers: A Letter to Melissa Rivers

Joan Rivers' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame following her death last week
Joan Rivers' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame following her death last week, Photo: DnHolm/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock

TO: Melissa Rivers
FROM: Barbara Anne Kirshner
RE: Joan Rivers and your membership of a very special sisterhood

September 7, 2014

Dear Melissa,

Can I share some thoughts with you?

Though we never met, we are members of a very special sisterhood. We are the daughters of mothers who loved us unconditionally. They were never selfish, never jealous. They always had our backs offering support and encouragement. Our mothers gave us a precious gift that can never be taken away.

And though your mother isn’t physically with you anymore, she continues to surround you with love. You’ll feel her presence as she gives you the strength to go on. You must go on—what else can you do? You owe it to yourself and to Cooper. And though there will be days when you will feel that magnetic pull to lock yourself in your bedroom and hibernate under the covers, you know you can’t do that. You know your mom wouldn’t want you to do that.

My mom passed away five years ago. Not a day that goes by that I don’t miss her and wish she were still here for me to hug. There are so many times when I want to talk to her, face to face.

Yes, there is a deep, dark abyss that can never be filled. I wish I could tell you that time heals all wounds—it doesn’t. You will never get over the loss of your mother. But you must go on like I have to go on. There are loved ones in my life who would be devastated, should anything happen to me.

You may not be ready to consider everything you still want to accomplish in your life, but you will move forward. You will make strides in anything you wish to do and you will feel your mother smiling down on you saying, “Good job!” Believe it or not, her spirit is constant, comforting you and laughing with you, when the time comes for you to laugh once more.

It seems you were lucky enough to be the center of your mother’s universe. She appeared consumed with concern about your well-being. I suspect she wouldn’t want you to be sad for too long. Remember her, yes—lock her in a special place in your heart, but forge on, trying new things and making accomplishments. Your mom will be up there in Heaven giving you a standing ovation for every success. You will hear echoes in your ears of, “That a girl!”

My mom was a go-getter just like yours. No, she wasn’t in the entertainment business, though she entertained her family daily. My mom was a brilliant woman like your mom. My mom worked hard and always had to fight against that glass ceiling just like your mom did. During World War II, my mom worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She inspected ships that went into battle.

Mom studied metallurgy at Hunter College. At one point, some criminal types approached her attempting to lure her into passing pipes that were to be fitted into battle ships. She took some of the pipes to the laboratory, placed them in water and watched them sink to the bottom of the tank. She refused to pass them. She was offered money, jewels and even a Cadillac to turn her back and let those pipes pass. But not my mother, she was far too honorable for that. She refused the pipes for the safety of the United States Navy.

After the war, she had a career in the United States Post Office where she worked her way up to administrative assistant to the Post Master General of the central annex on Long Island. She would’ve become the Post Master General herself had it not been for that damned glass ceiling. My sister and I loved to tease her by calling her “Mrs. Post Office.” She took our teasing in stride and was totally committed to her job.

I want you to know that I saw your mother’s act at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. She made an hour and a half show fly. She was so quick-witted and thoroughly entertaining. Her vivacious energy and animation was infectious. For a woman tiny in stature, she certainly knew how to fill a stage.

She was a true force on the small screen as well. Fashion Police was hysterical and I was totally engrossed in your “Joan and Melissa” reality series. The red carpet was at its best with your mother at the helm.

Melissa, we should always hold close to our hearts all the good our mothers did while they were here on this earth. They made a difference. Your mother gave people the gift of laughter. As for my mother, she was never taken in by the bribes. I dread to think what might have happened to the safety of those sailors on that ship if my mom was weak or greedy.

Barbara Anne Kirshner and her mother
Barbara Anne Kirshner and her mother, Photo: Courtesy Barbara Anne Kirshner

My godmother passed away less than a year after my mom, her sister. Two days before she died, we had one last phone conversation. It was as if she was preparing me for the end of her life.

She said, “When I go, I don’t want you to be sad. I know how upset you are over the loss of your mom and I don’t want my passing to compound your sadness. I’ve had a good life. I’ve had a great life. There are so many wonderful things that have happened for me in my life. I’m not afraid. You know, I think of my sister every day, just like I think of all my loved ones who have passed. You can’t help thinking about them, but don’t be depressed. Your mom wouldn’t want you to live that way and neither do I. Think of the good times, of all the fun we had together and know that we are up there looking down on you and smiling. Please listen to me—I don’t want you to be sad if something happens to me.”

I responded, “Oh, Aunt Nancy, don’t say this. Nothing is going to happen to you.”

She continued, “Well, just in case, I don’t want you to be sad.”

Two days later my godmother had a massive heart attack and was gone. She wasn’t feeling well that day we spoke and she must have sensed her time was running out. It was such a prophetic conversation and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I couldn’t be sad at her funeral though. She didn’t give me permission to be sad. Instead, I celebrated her life. She was right—it was a good life, a great life. She was surrounded by love, like my mother was, like your mother was.

So, enjoy your life, Melissa. Know that your mother is still with you, watching over you, giving you hugs and kisses. And celebrate in the sisterhood of all the lucky daughters who have known loving mothers, caring mothers, the very BEST of mothers.

Joan Rivers, 1933-2014
Joan Rivers, 1933-2014, Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Thinkstock

Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund. She will be reading from and discussing her book at Book Revue in Huntington (313 New York Avenue) on Thursday, October 9 at 7 p.m. Visit for more info.

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