"They came over about two weeks ago," Gifford said of Philbin and his wife, Joy. "I saw Reg get out of the car with Joy and I sensed much more fragility than I had seen in him since the last time in January out in Los Angeles."
The group spent the day sitting on Gifford's screen porch where they "laughed ourselves sick" and "picked up right where" they left off.
"We became dear friends through the years since then. Always, always getting together every chance we could and just picking up right where we left off. We just had the best time," she said. "After they left I thought to myself, 'Lord is that the last time I am going to see my friend?' Because he was failing. I could tell."
Gifford has been spending her time in Tennessee, but decided to head back to the tri-state area just before Philbin died.
"Something told me the other day when I was in Tennessee, 'Get on a plane and go home.' I didn't know why but I've learned to listen to that voice," she said. "I got on a plane, came home and immediately heard the news about Regis."
After learning of Philbin's death, Gifford called his widow and later went to visit her and the couple's daughters, J.J, 45 and Joanna, 47.
"They were in their living room going through pictures," Gifford shared. "There were thousands of pictures. We just reminisced for a little while."
"... I was just grateful to have the time with them and comfort them a little bit, and let them know that I believe with all my heart I know where Regis is and I know who he is with," she continued. "I had many conversations with him over the years about faith, and about where we go when this life is over. He was very curious as always, listened."
Gifford next reflected on her working relationship with Philbin, sharing that they "always respected each other's opinions so highly" and "never had one cross word" when they co-hosted Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee from 1988 to 2000.
"He was an entertainer in his guts and so was I. So when we came together, although we didn’t have a friendship yet, we had a mutual respect for what we had accomplished already in our careers and we had the same sense of humor," she said. "I wasn’t afraid of him and he sure as heck was not afraid of me. We just took off like a rocket."
"... When we first started we had no idea what we had. But we knew what we didn’t want. We didn’t want writers, a million producers, we didn't want it over-produced. We just wanted to sit there and have fun together," Gifford added. "... We never planned it, and it’s kind of like life. We never know what will happen next in life, so let it happen, let it be. Don't try to micromanage real moments. You're going to miss out on the most important thing, which is the humanity of things. We gave it to time to work out."
The other key to their success was the fact that they "never, ever tried to pretend we were anything but we were -- two people who loved each other, who were happy to be together."
"We had the biggest secret known to the whole world, but they don't do it -- we had fun," she said. "And it's contagious."
Gifford said she'll remember Philbin as "the most grateful person in the world" who "always felt like the luckiest guy," before admitting that she'll miss "everything" about the late TV personality.
"I was just so grateful the Lord gave me that final time. It was so precious," Gifford said. "When I talked to Joy the day I found out, right after he passed, she said, 'Kathie he hadn’t laughed in a long, long time.' She said, 'I was so worried about him.'"
"I think just like Frank, he was just ready. So many of his friends had died... He was ready to go," she continued, referencing her late husband, Frank Gifford. "[Joy] said, 'The day we came to have lunch with you was the last time I heard him laugh.' That will forever be a precious gift the Lord gave me, that I got to laugh again with one of my best friends in all of my lifetime."