“My mom, if you didn’t know … she passed away in her sleep in her beautiful bed yesterday morning,” Gifford, 64, said Wednesday morning on the Today show. “Just like Frank, I believe she saw Jesus and Jesus took her breath away. And it gives me great comfort.”
On Tuesday, the Today show anchor took to Twitter to announce that her mom, Joan Epstein, “went home to JESUS & my DADDY this morning.” Her mother’s death comes two years after the death of Gifford’s husband, Frank Gifford, in August 2015. Gifford’s father, Aaron Epstein, died in 2002.
“I know a lot of people are hurting in the world today, a lot of people are going through so much, 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,” Gifford said on the morning program. “Perfect love casts out all fear and He loves us perfectly. And nobody knew that more than my mom.”
Gifford’s co-anchor, Hoda Kotb, also expressed her love for Epstein, who had appeared on TV — including the Today show — numerous times with her famous daughter.
“Your mom, by the way, was one of the bright lights I think I have ever met and I remember when you first introduced her to me and to all of us at the Today show, we all fell madly in love because when she came in, humor followed,” said Kotb. “We also understood you 1,000 times more after meeting Joannie because she would say something in the middle of a segment we had and we would all break up just in hysterics,” said Kotb.
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In honor of Epstein’s life, the morning program played humorous clips from her past appearances on Today throughout the years.
“I’m just so happy for her,” Gifford shared. “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. 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.”
“I called her at 9 o’clock every single morning, Christine and I do, and I would always say, ‘Is this Cuddles Catell and is she comfy and cozy in her cubby?’ And she’d giggle,” Gifford said, referencing Epstein’s nickname of “Cuddles” (she received it from the boys at her high school based on her maiden name, Cuttell).
“She laughed all the time, even with the challenges she had physically. But we’d always talk every single morning for half an hour about what she had for breakfast,” recalled Gifford. “She lived for breakfast. 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 — it was French toast and sausage.”
To celebrate her mother’s life, Gifford said she intends to throw Epstein a “huge party” in the coming weeks, similar to what she did for her late husband, Frank.
“She lost everybody in her life: her mother, her father, her brother, her grandmother and only her sister was left, whom she also has lost. She lost her husband almost 13 years ago and she’s lost so many family members,” Gifford said. “But you know what she always remembered? What she had — what she still had. 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.”