Melissa Rivers Held Joan During Her Final Hours: 'She Knew I Was There'

She tried to help make Joan's passing "peaceful and beautiful," she tells PEOPLE

Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty

Melissa Rivers shares her personal memories of her mother, Joan, and the lessons she taught her about laughter and love. Subscribe now for instant access to this exclusive interview, only in PEOPLE.

While the world was praying for Joan Rivers as she lay critically ill in the hospital last summer, her daughter Melissa was readying herself to say goodbye.

Having flown with her 14-year-old son Cooper from Los Angeles to New York to keep vigil by Joan’s bedside at Mount Sinai Hospital, Melissa “knew it wasn’t good, but you have those moments of hope,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “And you hang on to those.”

Melissa, 47, recalls standing over Joan’s hospital bed and trying to will her mother to recover from the complications she experienced during an endoscopic procedure.

“I was going, ‘You’ve got to fight, Don’t do this!’ ” she says. “I was just making deals with her. And then at some point you realize, there’s no fighting.”

As doctors prepared Melissa for the worst, she was grateful Joan, 81, had made it very clear what she considered quality of life.

In Joan’s living will, “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.”

When the ventilator was turned off, Melissa climbed into the bed with Joan 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.”

Now Melissa has written a memoir, The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief and Manipulation, which chronicles their life together as mother and daughter.

And if she could talk to Joan 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.”

For more of Melissa Rivers’ exclusive photo shoot and at-home interview – in which she opens up about Joan’s final days and her new relationship – pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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