RESTRICTED: Melissa Rivers & Son Cooper 'we Miss Her Every Day'

Melissa Rivers watches her 14-year-old son Cooper and grins. It’s been almost eight months since her mother, Joan Rivers, died at age 81 following complications from an endoscopic procedure, and her grandson is now playfully chasing his two rescue dogs, Lola and Iris, around their backyard in the scenic Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. “I have to say, in the last six weeks I see him coming out of the fog,” says Melissa, noting how close Cooper was with Joan, who lived with them three days a week. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s my son again.’ ” Wrestling to the ground, Melissa and Cooper laugh together and then fall into a hug. “Don’t forget,” she tells him, “I’m still bigger and stronger.”

That strength has served Melissa well as she continues to face each day without her mother and best friend by her side. Now in a new memoir, The Book of Joan, Melissa, 47, recalls a show-business upbringing that was filled with both belly laughs and tough love—and it’s an effort of which she hopes her mom would be proud. From Joan’s thoughts on being honest (“She called it her version of the truth,” Melissa says) to her fear of public bathrooms, the book is a tribute to the outspoken comic’s life and the close and complicated relationship of a mother and daughter. “She would always say I was a much better parent than she was,” Melissa says. “Which sounds like a compliment until you think, ‘Wait a minute, what’s so messed up about me?!’ ” Writing helped in the months following Joan’s death, but her absence is keenly felt. “Who do you call and say you got there safely? Even if it’s the middle of the night?” adds Melissa, looking at her cell phone. “That’s when it really hits me. Getting in the car at the airport, and, you know, Who do I call?

The world mourned for a celebrity, but Melissa has come to appreciate the private woman who influenced her life away from the cameras. When she was growing up, Melissa says, her mother was “very strict,” and she’s raising Cooper the same way. Grandma Joan was another story. “They were just partners in crime,” Melissa says. “I would say to her, ‘Are you really trying to undermine all my authority?’ And she’d say, ‘Yeah, pretty much. Being a grandparent is the best because it’s all of the fun and none of the crap.’ ” As for their differences, “I’m much calmer and more diplomatic. I pause before I hit send,” says Melissa, laughing. “I was working on her to put things in her out-box before she sent them. So she would put them in, wait five minutes and then hit send. And then she’d say, ‘I did what you told me!’ ”

It was a little after 7 one morning last August when Melissa’s phone rang. “I was upstairs in my bedroom, and it was her assistant. And she said, ‘Your mother stopped breathing. We’re on our way to the hospital. I don’t know what else to tell you,’ ” she recalls. “You just go cold. You go numb; you can’t think.” She and Cooper immediately flew east and kept vigil by Joan’s bedside in Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “We knew it wasn’t good, but you have those moments of hope, and you hang on to those.” The first couple of days, Melissa stood over her mother’s bed, willing her to open her eyes. “I was going, ‘You’ve got to fight. Don’t do this!’ I was just making deals with her,” she says. “And then at some point you realize, there’s no fighting.”

Joan’s living will made it clear what she considered quality of life. “She had written in specifically that she was to be able to go onstage. For an hour. And be funny,” Melissa says. “She wasn’t going to be happy wheeled in to sit in the sun, you know? It was an amazing gift to give me, knowing exactly how she wanted her life to be. Not that it’s ever an easy decision, but I knew I was making the right one.” Melissa climbed into bed with her mother when the ventilator was turned off and held her before she took her last breath. “I believe she knew I was there,” she says. “I was grateful to have had those few days to be able to let go a little bit. I tried to make the transition as peaceful and beautiful as she would want it to be.”

Going through her mother’s belongings has been cathartic, “but there’s a lot,” says Melissa, who has put Joan’s New York apartment up for sale and plans to auction off most of its contents. Knowing that Joan liked to squirrel away fun money, mostly in fives and ones, Melissa has had to shake out books and magazines and even unscrew aerosol cans. “Then I was told she used Milk Duds boxes as her travel wallets,” she says. “And we’ve been throwing things out!” She now wears her mom’s watch and has kept two silver birds that would always mark Joan’s place at dinner parties “because if you flip open the bottoms, she had Altoids mints shoved in there,” Melissa says. “But her whole thing was always, ‘Don’t become attached to my stuff. Sell everything and get what you want. It’s the same as coming from me.’ ”

Although she’s still deciding what to do with Joan’s ashes—for now she is keeping them at home along with those of her father, Edgar Rosenberg, who committed suicide in 1987—Melissa plans to scatter both separately after the first of the year. “She always said to me, ‘Don’t you ever mix my ashes with your father’s.’ Because she was still kind of angry about the suicide. As much as she got over it, she didn’t really get over it,” Melissa says. “I’m telling you, if there’s an afterlife, my dad’s reaction was like, ‘Oh s—! She’s here and she’s pissed!’ ”

After Joan’s death Melissa leaned on a friend, L.A. talent agent Mark Rousso, and now the pair are dating. She thinks her mom would approve. The times she misses her the most are “when something really funny is happening,” she says. “Everybody asks me, ‘Don’t you feel her presence?’ I do but I don’t. She’ll leave me alone until I do something that really pisses her off, like cut bangs.” And if she could talk to her mom now? “I’d say, ‘I love you. I miss you. You have no idea how much you meant to Cooper. And we’re okay,’ ” Melissa says. “We’re going to be okay.”

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