Michelle D. Hord, THE OTHER SIDE OF YET: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness

Michelle D. Hord, THE OTHER SIDE OF YET: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness

In this business meeting-turned-podcast episode, Zibby interviews media executive Michelle D. Hord about The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness, an earth-shattering but hope-filled memoir about confronting grief with grace and resilience, even after the most devastating of losses–for Michelle, this was the murder of her daughter at the hands of her ex-husband. Michelle shares the details of this incomprehensible tragedy–from finally finalizing a horrible divorce to getting the phone call that shattered her the very next day. Then, she shares how putting pen to paper and working with a trauma therapist saved her life. She found her way and wants her readers to know that joy is possible after the darkest of days.


Michelle D. Hord: Hi.

Zibby Owens: Hi.

Michelle: How are you? I guess seeing my face would be useful.

Zibby: Oh, hey. How are you? What is Gabrielle’s Playground? What was that that flashed on the screen?

Michelle: Gabrielle is my daughter’s name. I don’t know how much you know about my background.

Zibby: I don’t know anything. I am so sorry. I just jumped on the Zoom. I was like, what’s the Zoom? I know Kate Hodgson recommended you to talk.

Michelle: I’ve been there, done that. I’ll start by saying thank you for taking the call. I know what it’s like. It’s like, I have to pee. Where am I supposed to be right now? Who is this person? Thank you. I’ll back up. I worked for GMA for a really long time as a producer. I was one of Robin Roberts’ first producers, which totally dates me. I was four. Have lots of GMA fam relationships. Have been a TV producer for most of my career. Gabrielle’s Playground, which you saw, is — I have a nonprofit that I started in my daughter’s memory.

Zibby: Oh, no, you lost a daughter.

Michelle: I did. I wrote a book that came out last year called The Other Side of Yet. It is a memoir about my experience; really, what it’s like to come back from the ashes. The title — there’s a million things I would do differently now. First-time author. One would probably be, do a different title. The title was based on the verse in Job. “Though he slay me, yet do I trust him.” How do you get to the point where you can pivot towards something else when your life is not going to look like you thought it would look? My backstory, just because I think it’s useful and why I wanted to get some time with you and appreciate your time — by the way, I love what you do. I love how you promote moms. I love how you promote normalcy, which social media is not really about. Before you’re going to Amsterdam, oh, my god, everybody’s sick. Something’s broken. That’s real life. So much of what people are inundated with is some sort of BS aspiration that’s not what real life looks like. I love what you do for authors, and your love of books, and for moms. That’s why I wanted to get a chance just to say hi and introduce myself to you. My own backstory, journalism major from Howard. Started at America’s Most Wanted. My first job there was doing missing kid stories. At twenty-three, way back in the day before we had the internet or any of these other tools, my 1-800 SkyPager would go off. When a child went missing, because there’s such a short turnaround time for recovery, I would go out and produce a piece, be with the family, get it on the local Fox affiliates. At the time, what was even crazier, as I look back as a grown-up now, was I wasn’t like the rest — this is pre-reality TV. This is back when you had five nights of 60 Minutes and five nights of Primetime. The cheap way of doing TV was news magazines. These stories were huge. They’re not as big as they were.

Zibby: I remember. I remember that.

Michelle: I never assume a certain age.

Zibby: I’m forty-six.

Michelle: Okay, so you do.

Zibby: Thank you, though, for that.

Michelle: Polly Klaas was this huge story out of Petaluma, California, that I broke. I was in the house with Polly’s family. She was on the cover of People magazine. Because it’s America’s Most Wanted and John Walsh, all of a sudden, I’m a social worker. I’m a psychiatrist. I’m a publicist. They trust me. In addition to covering the story — I’m not with the rest of the press. I’m having parents say, should I talk to them? Can I trust them? Early on in my career, just having proximity to the worst nightmare and really developing a passion as a storyteller for how ordinary, everyday people somehow survive just the most unimaginable things and still make dinner and take care of kids and tell an off-color joke, how do they do that? Then continued, worked CBS, Oprah, long time at GMA, which is why I have my GMA connections. Always loved those stories about the triumph of the human spirit, how people rally, how they come together, how they somehow survive.

Then fast-forward, I got married to someone I’d known forever. He was my brother’s RA in college at UCONN. The whole Kleinfeld, brides’ magazines, all the New York things, as a producer at GMA. Was told for years I wouldn’t be able to have a kid. Gave birth to Gabrielle when I was thirty-nine. No issues. I won’t say an easy birth, but an easy pregnancy. Beautiful, healthy little girl. Several years into our marriage, decided, unfortunately, this marriage wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. This person wasn’t who I thought he was. There was never any violence or threat or violence. He was basically just lazy, a lazy asshole. I still talk like I’m in morning TV. I should give that disclaimer. When you’re a mother of a girl, you’re aware that what you do is more important than what you say in terms of projecting what normal is, what acceptable is. I just didn’t want Gabrielle to think that she should have to be Mommy, Daddy, and everybody else because I was doing that. I asked for a divorce. It was a horrific, nasty, tug-of-war divorce. As I’ve learned over the last several years, so many of them are. If people haven’t been through the process, they just —

Zibby: — I’m divorced.

Michelle: I know.

Zibby: I’m remarried.

Michelle: I don’t know your process, but I do know that you were divorced. People just really don’t understand how horrific it is. The knock-down, drag-out, I move out of the house, just because I don’t want her to see any drama or friction, temporarily while we settle things. June 5th, 2017, he agrees, finally, to sign the papers. We meet. We sign the papers. He says to me, “I’m so sorry for everything that’s happened.” I go back to my rental house, call all my friends crying, grateful, praise report. Oh, my god, I can start over. Go to work the next day. That was the night where Gabrielle was spending the night at her dad’s. I get a phone call from our nanny at about three PM, and it is clear she’s walked into a crime scene.

Zibby: No.

Michelle: My first thought is, oh, my god, he’s killed myself. How am I going to explain this to Gabrielle? Then I get this sinking feeling, that cold ice pick from your head down. I called one of the moms who was always there for drop-off and asked if she’d seen Gabrielle that day, and she said no. Found one of those little phone booths. I was facilitating at a conference and found one of those little phone booth spaces and went in and shut the door and literally got on my knees and was like, God, I don’t know what I’m walking into, but please just give me the strength to handle whatever it is. The longest ride of my life back to New Rochelle, New York. Now here is more police tape. There is a crime scene. I’ve been here a million times, and now I’m the mother. The first person I see is my pastor. That was almost six years ago. That was June 6th, 2017. My ex-husband is now serving twenty-five years to life because for some reason in New York State, it’s not first-degree murder unless it has certain circumstances, unless you kill someone in law enforcement or someone that’s a witness or it’s an act of terrorism. It was second degree. Two years to get a divorce, even to someone who’s behind bars, the whole legal system crazy, which made me realize, oh, my god — I have education. I have friends. I have means. I have relative privilege, when you look at the universe. This system is really horrific for me. I can’t imagine for the average person that’s dealing with these sort of circumstances. I’ve always written. Go ahead.

Zibby: Can we go back to the crime scene for one second?

Michelle: Sure.

Zibby: What happened? Your ex-husband had —

Michelle: — He killed our daughter.

Zibby: He killed your daughter. Did he have a psychotic break? What happened?

Michelle: He must have. He has said he was innocent every day. He’s gone to appeal court. He’s still alive. The big shock for me in that moment was that he didn’t have the decency to kill himself. He is still alive. He’s serving twenty-five years to life. He’s tried to appeal it. We had to go through a trial because he would not admit to the fact that he did this, even though he did on the scene with police. As you can imagine, I can’t emotionally go into the details. This person that I have known —

Zibby: — I am so sorry.

Michelle: Thank you.

Zibby: I am so sorry. There are no words to — not that there are no words. I am just so sorry. I can’t believe you had to go through this and that you can just sit here on the Zoom and pretend you’re a normal person when something like this happens. My heart is — I am so sorry. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I can’t even explain how much empathy I am feeling towards you. I’m so sorry. Anyway, keep going. I just had to pause.

Michelle: I’m sorry, I think my defense mechanism has been — I’ve had to do this so many times that I’ve had to learn how to rush through it a little bit. Do you know what I mean?

Zibby: It’s fine. I just wanted to make sure I understood that that is actually what happened. I am so sorry. Keep going. I don’t want to stop you or get you off track.

Michelle: No, that’s okay.

Zibby: He’s in prison now.

Michelle: He’s in prison now. I’ve always written. Those of us that love books and were the geeky kids that wrote all the time and read all the time and always dreamed of writing a book, I was one of those. This is not a book anybody would ever want to write. This is not something you dream of writing, but I knew that journaling was going to save my life. If I was going to survive this, it was going to be putting pen to paper. Every morning, I would go outside. I started reading the Book of Job because I felt like this was worse than my worst nightmare. As a type A, high-strung television producer, worst nightmare is your kid gets sick. Some freakish thing happens. It’s not this. It’s not this because this isn’t possible. Do you know what I mean? This isn’t in the realm of reality.

Zibby: Yes, I understand.

Michelle: I started writing. Thank god. I was introduced to an amazing trauma therapist. Over time as part of my own healing, my trauma therapist would suggest I send journal entries or poems or things that I had written to my friends just so they could get a sense of where I was. I had people say, “Oh, my gosh, I hadn’t prayed in years until I read what you wrote. When I heard you speak at Gabrielle’s funeral, that was such an aha moment in my own life.” I felt led to somehow share this journey. What was so important to me from day one, especially because as a TV producer, I know our thirst for the macabre and I know this world of Dateline, 48 Hours that we live in, was that my daughter’s legacy was going to be about who she was and what I built in a foundation and not what happened to her. I also understood that in order to really talk about what it meant to become resilient and to have hope and to rebuild from the ashes, I was going to have to say what happened out loud. My book is my journey. It’s the journey of, how do you get to the other side of life completely knocking you on your ass in a way you can never imagine?

It’s divided into Before, Yet, and After from that verse and also just from these universal moments where we thought we knew what life would look like. Guess what? It’s never going to look like that again. COVID was one of those universally for us. None of us could’ve imagined until it did, that the world shuts down and all of the repercussions. When everything goes away or everything you thought you understood about your life goes away, how do you pivot? How do you find that yet and then at some point, find the guts and the hope to imagine you can still have a life? Not better, not replace, but that there’s still more out there. That’s the journey that my book tries to take people on. I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time and talk to you. I won’t be the first one to tell you that publishers and publicists do not sell books. That is not a news flash or a lead. I’m super, super clear that I was able to sell my book for two reasons. One, I was able to take something that is not imaginable and sell it in the heart of COVID where we were universally going through an unimaginable moment. I was able to talk about, as I pitched, this universal “there are no words” moment that we were all living through. People could grasp that. And frankly, because I’ve worked at The Oprah Show and GMA and all the places that are kind of crown jewels in the industry to be able to get an audience. I did that. I had a big push in terms of getting in front of the right audiences, on the right show.

My paperback came out in March. The hardcover came out last March. It has not done what I know it could’ve done because it has been received as this horrific nightmare story. If you pitch something as a story of a woman whose daughter is murdered by her dad, no, thank you. What I try to do and what eighty percent of the book is, if not more, is, how do you survive? How do you find joy in crazy moments? How do you keep your wicked sense of humor? How do you find love again? I’m remarried. Fell in love in the most unexpected way with the most unexpected person. So much of the book is that universal experience of having to survive and reimagine your life. I’ve struggled to really get that out, messaging-wise. I’m doing all the things now from a branding standpoint, website and all of that. The ultimate goal is not the book. It’s the idea that this is a message that people need to hear. I just wanted, in my long vomiting out my entire life to you in fifteen minutes, wanted to get your ear because you read so much, because you’re so exposed in this world, to see if you had any advice for me about how I could do a better job of reframing this. There’s so much hope and love in this book. My heart breaks at the thought that people think that it’s a crime log.

Zibby: First of all, I think that this conversation — my Zoom automatically records. I always forget to turn it off when I just have a normal meeting because I’m so often doing podcasts. I think I should just turn this conversation up to this point or whatever and have this be a podcast. You told me your whole story. I know I haven’t read the book because I thought this was a meeting, which it was, but whatever. I’d love to just put this on my podcast and let everybody else hear your story if that’s okay with you.

Michelle: Sure.

Zibby: Okay, so there’s that. Thank you. In terms of rebranding the message of the book and selling, it is all so hard. I wish I had the magic bullet. As you know, there are new books coming out every second. What you’re doing is the most important thing. I was literally just — somebody was asking me for advice for authors. I’m like, act like a partner with your publisher. You can’t expect them to do everything. The more you can do, the better. Your book, you care more than anybody in the world. I know I care more about my book. You care more about your book. They’re very important to us. Not giving up because the pub date has come and gone is the most important. For you, I think — this is just my armchair whatever. Maybe pitching more book clubs, even on a smaller scale, going and talking to book clubs. You’re a great speaker. I think you should get a speaker’s agent and go on the road and be a speaker.

Michelle: I’ve had lots of people say that. If there are any that you would recommend that I reach out to, that feels like a huge world that I’m not terribly — I’m very comfortable speaking. I’ve done a ton of press. I’ve done a ton of sit-down interviews. I also think that, whether it’s corporate, whether it’s noncorporate, the messaging about resilience and hope and rewriting your own narrative, taking it back, is super universal and something that I could share with audiences.

Zibby: Would you be interested in teaching a class for Zibby Classes? That could be really cool. You could do a whole thing on rewriting your story or picking up the thread. I think you could teach.

Michelle: That sounds really cool.

Zibby: I can put you in touch with the woman who runs our classes. I don’t know speaker’s bureaus. That’s not my world, but I have actually been meaning to look into it for some other authors as well. I can do some digging as well and get back to you. I know that there are some authors who are a part of some. I’ll dig into it. You can dig into it too. I really think you should be taking this on the road, if you will. That sounds so callous. I think that hearing it from you is so beyond powerful that it would be hard for people not to want to help you after they hear your story. I think your main asset is you and your ability to tell your story. I don’t mean on media. I’m sure you’ve already done all the media, but where people have to look you in the eye and hear it and then figure out how what you’re saying is going to inspire them. Even schools, honestly, colleges.

Michelle: It’s funny you say that. My trauma therapist has shared it with some of her colleagues. It’s the sort of thing, whether it’s a theology school or a social worker, that could be a companion. My joke is always, I’m like Brené Brown’s white paper. I’m the human side of all of the things that people hear about when they talk about resiliency and survival and the choices people make and the tools it takes to overcome, for lack of a better word. Listen, I am nobody’s superhero. I think we all do what we’re required to do, what life requires for us to do. I’m the only person on earth that started off doing missing children stories at America’s Most Wanted and wound up in this position, literally. I understand what it’s like on both sides of that mother’s story and that police tape and have done stuff with the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which is great. I want to be careful — the nonprofit that I have, Gabrielle’s Wings, is focused, because my daughter was fortunate enough to be a child of — again, privilege is relative — relative privilege as an African American child in terms of the school and camp and the things that she was exposed to, the foundation is about finding a way to stand in that gap for other children who looked like her, elementary-age children, through literacy, through social-emotional learning. Different programs on three continents are building out our programming from a literacy perspective, from manipulables. When you’re working with younger kids that are dealing with emotional issues, what are the tools that they need?

I’d love to send you, through your assistant, whatever makes the most sense, I’d love to send you a copy of the book. I’d love to send you a link to some of the stuff I’ve done, media-wise, so you just get a sense about the foundation. I feel like you can feel people’s hearts. I’ve just, since I’ve been following you, have felt your heart and your sincerity and your no-BS openness, which I totally appreciate. Because I’m close friends with Robin Roberts, she did something for Nightline and GMA when the book came out last year. They revisited it with those quick little buzz things that they do this year. I sat down with Eva Pilgrim from Weekend GMA and did a piece that aired in the last couple of weeks. I’ve probably gotten more publicity for my book than Will Smith did for his autobiography, but he doesn’t need it because he’s Will Smith. I think there is something to the intimacy of being in small rooms with people, being live and in person with people that, directionally, feels like an important next step.

Zibby: I think so too.

Michelle: For the work. I’m not focused on — listen, I’m competitive as hell. You don’t write a book if you don’t want it to sell. You want to be heard. You want to feel like your message is validated. Having said that, what’s more important to me at this point is, I feel like this is really my ministry, is to help women, people overall, but really, what does it mean to rewrite your own narrative? I’m just looking for smart ways to plug in where I can do that work.

Zibby: Again, I am so sorry that this is your story in life. I’m honored that you told it to me. Let me put you in touch with our class person. I’m going to dig around for speaker’s things. Let me think about too, if I can think of interesting ways. I feel like you need to get out there and talk, whether it’s schools or churches or even, honestly, prisons or a population where people feel like, how will they rebuild? Your message is, if I can do it, anybody can do it. That is the most powerful thing of all. That is what people need. They need examples of resilience. It’s much more powerful than the phrase, I know I can do it. Seeing someone and saying, “Oh, my gosh, this woman Michelle came and spoke, and it’s changed my life,” that’s what you want. That’s your mission now. You have to turn your pain into a calling. That’s how to get through anything, really. Let me keep thinking about creative ways that I can think of or that I could personally help. Hopefully, someone will listen to our podcast and think of ways for you to help. I think you’ve got to take this show on the road. Not even bookstores, but community centers.

Michelle: When we did the paperback, we did a book club guide, which I think will help facilitate that in terms of getting in front of book clubs and groups, to have the conversations, to make it applicable to their own lives. When I stopped producing, I went to NBC Universal. I ran all of recruiting and helped develop curriculum. I facilitate. I’m this bizarro purple unicorn. I know what it’s like to facilitate classes and courses, to help design them. I bring this very unique tool kit that I think uniquely positions me to do this work. It’s just about the best way to get it in the world. Listen, I’m not asking you to do my homework for me.

Zibby: I know. I understand.

Michelle: Based on what you do and the exposure you have and the conversations you have, thought if there were things that came to mind — I’m just polling smart people for advice and guidance.

Zibby: I love that. I totally get it. I wasn’t misinterpreting or thinking ill of anything at all. Let me get emailing about you and see what I can do. If you want to write something for Zibby Mag also, I know Mother’s Day is coming up.

Michelle: I will tell you, I just had not had time to pitch. I did a lot of stuff for Oprah Daily over the last few years. My newest idea that I’m really stuck on is that women have to learn how to mother themselves. Not only did I lose my daughter, I lost my mom when I was twenty-four. My mom was fifty and died of an aneurysm. Three months later, her mom, who was dying of cancer, died of cancer. I was totally cut off of that feminine chain. I think there’s something about the “put your oxygen mask on first” thing and how women — Mother’s Day is complicated, whether you wanted kids and don’t have them, whether you have kids and don’t feel like you’re the mom you should be, whether you have a complicated relationship with your mom. Name it. It’s just a super complicated time that really brings up emotions for people because it’s one of those holidays that we’ve manufactured. We’ve manufactured the idea around what the perfect mother, what the perfect mother relationship is. I think there’s something empowering around the idea of women learning to mother themselves. That could be an interesting piece.

Zibby: Let me connect you with all the people who can help, at least in my little world here. We’ll start with that.

Michelle: That’s awesome. If you decide this is not podcast material, then I’m fine with that. If you decide at some point down the road, let’s set up a time to actually do a podcast, I’m fine with that. I saw the “record” the whole time. I come from a world of TV. Think about what makes sense for you and your work. If it’s using parts of this, great. If it’s not, fine. If it’s doing it another time, I don’t have any expectations there.

Zibby: Amazing. Great to connect.

Michelle: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Have a good day. Bye.

Michelle: Take care. Buh-bye.

Michelle D. Hord, THE OTHER SIDE OF YET: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness

THE OTHER SIDE OF YET: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness by Michelle D. Hord

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