It was while watching Melissa Rivers co-host a red carpet event with her mother, Joan Rivers, that I first recognized the look on Melissa's face as her mother spoke. Joan was a ball of energy, revved up and spitting out barbs... most of which weren't PC. Melissa slunk down, and Joan went on. There was no stopping Joan and I watched Melissa wince in the scorch of her mother's take-no-prisoners sarcasm.
Joan Rivers was being the Joan Rivers that the world knew, but at the same time, Joan Rivers was also Melissa's mother, and I could feel the lifetime of growing up that I had had with a mother who never censored or kowtowed to anyone. No one and nothing was safe from my mother, as was with Joan. You could not describe either woman without the words ballsy, fearless, a force of nature. There were other words, too, like annoying, frustrating, bull headed, stubborn.
I often felt like Melissa Rivers with my own mother. I didn't love it at the time, but I came to an appreciation for what my mother's life was. The out loud way of grabbing life and living it is what I eventually loved about my mother and Joan Rivers.
Like her, my mother had a razor sharp, rapid fire wit and when you were on her radar, you felt the heat. My mother, too, like Joan, was the widower of a man who had killed himself. Just like Joan, my mother did what she had to do, never saying no to work as she struggled to provide for six children. Of all the jobs that my mother worked, sometimes three at a time to support us, none was more important to her than that of mother. I saw that same thing in the way that Joan Rivers loved her daughter, Melissa.
My mother lived without apology. She didn't care who liked her or not, she did what she had to do, without a worry about fitting in with the women of our 1960s neighborhood. She worked full time at a time when women didn't and in the '60s, when in this city women needed their husband's signature to get a credit card, my mother talked the bank manager into allowing her one, for the necessity of her children. Never take no for an answer, my mother would have cross stitched that on a pillow if she were to ever sit long enough to be domestic.
Joan Rivers and my mother had an intuition about themselves, a bravery about who they were, resilient when life did as life does -- it was as if any adversity that came their way just made them that much more sure of themselves. They spoke first, and then took full responsibility for any fall out, not ever seeking out a scapegoat. Both women were serious in their work and lived by a work ethic that was there seven days a week. Joan Rivers once said, "I knew I was funny. And that it was powerful." My mother was aware, too, that she had a brilliant sense of humor. She knew she was quick with a comeback and would press her lips together right before she was about to deliver a sharp-tongued gem... as if to say I can't stop myself, I have to.
To my mother, there was no such thing as a man's world. It was just the world, and she fought for her place in it as if she didn't think any reason existed for her not to. She was ahead of her time, and she took every opportunity that came her way, showing her four daughters to say yes first, and then make damn sure you delivered. My mother had a saying during the '70s with the rise of feminism and Gloria Steinem, "These women, so silly, instead of spending time saying they're going to do something, they could be just doing it."
I grew to love and admire my mother for the same reason that I do Joan Rivers. And I know I can say the same for the way Melissa Rivers evolved to see her mother through the softening heart of maturity; as strong, beautiful women, and needing no one's approval. Though there were plenty of times that I, as I would see Melissa do, cringed from my mother's brazenness and intentional lack of restraint, underneath everything I couldn't help but admire her courage and her grit.
Both my mother and Joan Rivers were brilliant stars. When you watched them in their perfect moments of letting go and saying just what needed to be said, you felt it: they were irreplaceable.
When I heard that Joan Rivers passed away today, I thought of how I had lost my mother just a year ago, and my heart broke for Melissa.
Because when your mother is a tough broad, you feel like they'll be with you forever.
I'd say RIP, Joan Rivers, but I know that's something you will never do. You'll be as busy as my mother is now. When you see her, please give her a kiss for me, and let her know that her daughter misses her.