Kathie Lee Gifford Makes Emotional Return to Today Show One Day After Her Mother's Death

Joan Epstein passed away yesterday at age 87

By Elyse Dupre Sep 13, 2017 5:10 PMTags
Joan Epstein, Kathie Lee GiffordPeter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire

Just a day after her mother Joan Epstein passed away at age 87, Kathie Lee Gifford returned to the Today show. 

"My mom if you didn't know...she passed away in her sleep in her beautiful bed yesterday morning," a teary-eyed Gifford told viewers this morning.

Gifford expressed how she is relying on her faith to get through this difficult time. She also encouraged viewers to do the same.

"Just like Frank, I believe she saw Jesus and Jesus took her breath away, and it gives me great comfort," she said referencing her late husband Frank Gifford. "And I know a lot of people are hurting in the world today. A lot of people are going through so much, and there's a lot of fear in the world today. I just suggest that you take hold of God's hand, because He's real good at carrying things for you, and perfect love casts out all fear and He loves us perfectly. And nobody knew that more than my mom, right Hod?"

The Origins of Hoda Kotb & Kathie Lee Gifford: How They Found Each Other 10 Years Ago

Hoda Kotb, Gifford's co-host, referred to Gifford's mom as "one of the bright lights I think I've ever met" and told her, "We all fell madly in love [with her] because when she came in, humor followed. 

"We also understood you a thousand times more after meeting Joanie because she would say something in the middle of a segment we had and we would all break up just in hysterics," Hoda said to Gifford.

Gifford's mom made several Today show appearances and brought her humor with her. In a video montage, the Today show featured clips of Epstein doing everything from cooking recipes, to whispering with Gifford on air to playing trivia games with former Who Want to Be a Millionaire host Regis Philbin.

"One of my favorites was when she came one morning [and] she goes, ‘Are we on high dementia TV' and I said ‘Well, one of us is,'" Gifford recalled.

However, Gifford seemed at peace with her mother's passing and was thankful for the time they spent together.

"I'm just so happy for her," she said. "You know, I remember Frank the last year of his life saying to me, ‘I'm not afraid honey. I'm not afraid at all. In fact, I'm starting to really get curious.' My mom had no fear. No fear. She had the strongest faith of anybody I've ever known and I'm grateful for her every day of my life, even when she was driving me crazy, because she was such a lady." 

It was evident that Gifford and her mother were close. The host told Kotb that she used to call her mother every morning and say, "Is this Cuddles Cuttell, and is she comfy and cozy in her cubby?" Cuttell, Today reports, was Epstein's maiden name. Gifford also shared that her mother had a strong affinity for breakfast, particularly sausage, and that they would talk about her morning meal during their daily calls.

"She lived for breakfast," Gifford said. "She really did. I think she's a little mad because yesterday they came to wake her up and give her her breakfast—it was her favorite breakfast."

Gifford also thanked her sister Michie Mader for looking after her mother and shared a sweet story about her sister visiting the place their mother lived after she died.

"She said ‘Kath, I thought I knew every single person that worked there. I thought I knew them all.'" Gifford recalled. "She said, ‘And I could barely get out of that place yesterday…because people I have never even seen before were coming up to me and telling me stories about Mom." 

Of course, Gifford's co-host had kind words for her, too.

"You know what, Kath, I gotta tell you. So many people are admiring you and just your, like, your strength," Kotb said before getting emotional—to which Gifford replied, "If I can hold it together, then you can Hoda."

After getting some tissues, Kotb shared an inspirational quote by Yasmin Mogahed that reminded her of Epstein: "Being both soft and strong is a combination very few have mastered."

 "And she was that," she said, explaining how Epstein hadn't lived an easy life growing up as an orphan and losing so many family members in life. 

"But you know what? She always remembered what she had—what she still had," Gifford said. "And she had the Lord in a deep deep way. And you know what, guys? If He's all you got, He's all you need."

It appears that Gifford is using her grief for good. She announced that she will be performing a song called "He Saw Jesus" that she wrote with Brett James about her husband in the coming weeks. The song will be available for download, she said, and all of the proceeds will go towards Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma support.

Gifford heard the news of her mother's passing yesterday in the makeup room, Kotb explained. She also shared the news on Twitter and has received several condolences on social media.

Watch the video to view the Today show segment. 

Today hosts Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer also expressed their condolences on the show.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Gifford and her family.