Episode 60: Visiting with Holly Melby of Champaign, IL and her story, “The Other Side of the Door”
SSPP ep 60 HOLLY MELBY “The Other Side of the Door”
Season six wraps up with our guest Holly Melby, who appeared on stage in Champaign in 2022. Holly tells Jenette and Kerry about the biggest decision she ever made in her life in her story,“The Other Side of the Door.”.
ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:28 Thank you so much for joining us for just another amazing, exciting fun, fantabulous, wonderful and intellectually stimulating episode of The She Said Project Podcast, where we share women’s stories. I’m your co-host Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project.
KERRY ROSSOW 00:45 I’m Kerry Rossow, Co-Founder of The She Said Project.
JENETTE 00:49 Kerry, it’s so much fun to be back in the studio live. During COVID we had to pivot, like many people, and we kept the podcast going, but we were doing it virtually, we were on zoom. But like, you guys, we are back in the studio. We are with our amazing partners, Illinois Public Media, WILL, out of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. We get to do what we love to do: talking to incredible women who’ve been in That’s What She Said.
KERRY 01:15 That’s right. That’s right. I put a bra on for this.
JENETTE 01:18 Thank you.
KERRY 01:18 I left the house now that we’re back out of the house, bra’s on. I can’t promise that the legs are shaved, but… we’re back. Bra Up, Sis!
JENETTE 01:27 I’m in radio mode versus in-person mode still. [Kerry laughs] So I might have my glasses on instead of my contacts but that’s okay.
KERRY 01:35 Radio face.
JENETTE 01:36 Wait. Hold on, bra check. Okay, we’re good. We’re good.
KERRY 01:39 Girls are up. All right, we gotta get right to it. Because I love today… I love all of our guests, but I love this guest.
JENETTE 01:45 I don’t think we should tell anybody else. But you know, she definitely loves spending time with Holly Melby. Oh!
KERRY 01:49 Whoop. There it is.
JENETTE 01:50 [Overlapping speech] oops, I gave it away.
KERRY 01:52 Alright, get in here, Holly.
HOLLY MELBY 01:53 Hi, girls.
KERRY 01:54 Hi!
JENETTE 01:55 Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
HOLLY 01:57 I love being here with you. Thanks for having me.
JENETTE 02:00 It is great to see you again and welcome you back because it’s been a minute.
HOLLY 02:04 Yeah, it’s been a minute and you even said, “you know, we could call in, we can do this virtually.” I’m like, [Holly chuckles] “No I want to be there with you.” I’m happy to be here.
JENETTE 02:12 Love an opportunity to catch up and hear all things Melby-side.
KERRY 02:17 Melby… in the house. Well, here’s the thing. Every time I actually see Holly, whether it’s in person or on Facebook, it makes me like scrunch up my shoulders and squeeze like, ooh, I love her!
JENETTE 02:27 Me too. I get the Holly Melby Squeal!
KERRY 02:30 Yes, like every time
HOLLY 02:31 That’s the best compliment ever.
KERRY 02:32 I know. It like always makes me scrunch up. [Kerry squeals] Ohh! But then, but then here’s the other side of that coin is I think about your story. And it makes me scrunch up. But like you’re opening like “The Other Side of the Door”, which we’ll talk about in a minute. But then it makes me like my heart starts pounding and my hands start sweating. And every time I think about the story, it’s like in person, I’m like, Oh, I love her. And then I think of your story and my heart pounds out of my chest.
HOLLY 02:54 Yeah, it’s interesting, too, because I think in my head, I had planned to share, maybe something more lighthearted, like something like that, like that scrunch up kind of feeling. And so, that’s just interesting that you’re even addressing that like flip coin of all the emotions that I give you. Right?
KERRY 03:13 Which is all of us, right? Like, this is what we always talk about: we want this show to not just be one tone: it’s super serious, or it’s super sad, or it’s a super dramatic thing, or it’s or it’s all funny, and your life and and your story, it was a perfect fit. Because it’s all those things. You’re super funny. And you’re super happy. And you’re super serious. And you have this, you have all the stories. And so I would like to know how you landed where you did, on what story did you wind up choosing? Because you have an arsenal.
HOLLY 03:43 Yeah, that’s the question. It was such an interesting thing leading up to it. Because I did have in my head it was going to, I wanted to do something, the stories I loved the most were funny and entertaining. And I’m like, That’s what I want to be, you know, I want to tell some humorous story. And so even in the beginning, I had that in my head from the very beginning. And then as things started to unfold, my Dad actually went into the hospital, literally three weeks before the cast met, for the first time, all of us together. And so my actual, you know, that part of the story was unfolding, in real time as we were going through the That’s What She Said journey. So really early on, it just kept coming back where I’m like I think this is the one, I think this is the one. And so I wasn’t totally sold on it to be completely honest, because I was I so wanted to do something humorous, but I’m like, I know that I’m gonna get excellent coaching and direction on this, I think that I can do this and tell the story publicly for the first time ever.
HOLLY 04:42 And so there was something just really profound about that to me, and I love just the depth of all women’s stories, you know, and that we are multifaceted, right? Like we do have so many different levels of ourselves, of our emotions, of our experiences. And so I liked that I could tap into something a little bit more serious. And it was actually a really beautiful kind of healing way to go through that process with my dad being in the hospital and moved to the nursing home, and later passing on, that That’s What She Said, actually, was a really, you know, just important part of that journey, that, then this whole cast kind of came alongside me and helped me go through the grieving process and learn how to say goodbye, and move on, and bond with other people who have experienced something similar. And so it became a really, I don’t know, it kinda came kind of full circle, literally one of the cast members was on call of the night that my dad passed away, you know, so it just, it’s really unbelievable when you look at all the details that were involved in my story.
JENETTE 05:51 It was remarkable. And it was a huge bonding experience for you and your cast. And I love everything you just said, because I was witness to your journey and your story unfolding. And you couldn’t have said it better. I mean, we were looking for something light hearted, we were looking for something inspirational. You know, you put yourself out there as a role model for women to not take life so seriously. And here you are telling one of the most serious stories you could. And I just want to compliment you because you-did-the-work. You put in the time you wrote and selected each word meticulously, you knew exactly what you were trying to say. And you wanted it crafted in such a way that, that you really brought people in with you on the journey. And that is a skill and a talent. And I just want to commend you on that. It was crafted so exquisitely. We didn’t do a ton of editing. But for you it was more about, it was more about representing the journey in a way that was truthful and healing than it was about that the edits and the words like it just, it, it came out.
JENETTE 06:56 It really struck me because we talk a lot about defining moments, when you can look back. So many of the stories that we get to come across are from these moments in time where you made a decision, and that changed everything. And that’s how you started. That’s how you opened because we now know, if you hadn’t made that choice, you wouldn’t be sitting right here, where you are today.
JENETTE 06:56 So, I think that’s a perfect opportunity to share with our listeners exactly what Holly experienced and then shared on stage. So you can come along with us on this really extraordinary journey of Holly Melby’s experiences.
JENETTE 07:37 So take a listen. Grab a tissue, and please enjoy this performance of Holly Melby sharing her story in That’s What She Said 2022 in Champaign Urbana, Illinois: “The Other Side of the Door”.
(Originally recorded February 26, 2022 at the Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL.)
HOLLY MELBY 07:54
Slowly, my trembling hand lifted to knock on the door. Then I paused. As is typical for me, I second guessed my choice to come. I questioned all of the decisions that led to this moment actually. I wondered, did the Mapquest directions, I clutched in my sweaty palm, prove that I was a stalker. I mean, true, I would have preferred to be the one being pursued, rather than the one doing the pursuing. Yet here I was. A million taunting voices raced through my head as I contemplated my next move. And I heard, “you shouldn’t be here”. And then the guilt set in. But, I’m not a homewrecker, I reminded myself. I don’t want to cause problems for any marriage or family. That maybe this was a mistake. I mean, what if I get attacked for being here? And worst of all, what if my presence on this porch makes me a trader? What if my knock on that door breaks my mom’s heart? After all, she was the one who raised me. She was the one who supported me. She was the one who loved me since the day I was born. But surely there’s nothing wrong with a kid wanting to meet their dad. Right? So I did it. I knocked on that door. And I waited for what felt like an entire lifetime. After all, it was it took 18 years to bring me to that moment. Standing on that concrete porch alone, with sweat beginning to make an appearance. I nervously anticipated what was about to happen.
09:53 I pretty much already imagined every possible scenario. The worst case being that I would be rejected yet again. That here’s what happened. The door swung open, and a dark skinned college boy appeared. The oldest of my four half siblings. I’d always wondered if we looked alike. And now I knew, but he didn’t. He had no clue who I was. I simply asked, “Is your mom or dad home?” His dad, my dad. But I kept that information to myself, choosing instead to respect his parent’s right to disclose that truth when they were ready. He turned back into the house and a moment later, a woman returned to me, my dad’s wife. I could see that look of uncertainty on her face. So quickly, I answered the question I assumed she was wondering, “Hi, I’m Holly, I’m Julie’s daughter.” We stared at each other. We both knew that neither of us mentioned the elephant in the room: The fact that I was her husband’s daughter. What’s she going to do I wondered? Is she gonna slam the door in my face? Am I about to get cussed out. Instead, she pushed open the screen door and invited me in. I stepped into the house managing to play it cool, nonchalant.even. But, inside, I was screaming. I cannot believe this! I am in my dad’s house. This was the closest I’ve ever been to him before. The first thing I noticed was a painting of Jesus on the wall. You know the one with the creepy eyes that follow you around the room [audience laughs]. It was an exact replica of one that hung on mine in my mom’s dining room wall and perhaps on yours too. At the welcoming sight of it, I let out a long, shaky breath, not even realizing that I’ve been holding it.
12:13 The next thing that I knew her arm was wrapped around my shoulder. I must have looked like a deer in headlights. Oh my god, what is happening? She pulls me in close and gently she whispered, “I’m glad you’re here.” In all the years, I’d fantasized about this moment. In all the pretend scenarios I had made up in my head about what could happen. Never in my wildest dreams did I see this happening. I was shocked. Yet, I managed to muster out a sincere, “me too,” and I really, really meant it. I was so glad to be there. I walked down the hallway with her arm still wrapped around me when a diapered toddler ran up to her. She embraced him and told me his name. He gave me that shy look of distrust that little kids give, and I felt a sting. I was just a stranger to him. But I longed to know him as intimately as everyone else in this house knew him, to be someone who could scoop him up and bring him comfort. Would he ever trust me? Would I ever get that chance? I was on a wild roller coaster of emotions—feeling exhilarated to be welcomed into this home, yet heartbroken to feel like a foreigner with my own blood relatives. And then the next thing I knew, all of a sudden, and yet after a long 18 year wait, I was about to meet my dad. She called him over and discreetly explained to I was simply just saying, “the daughter of an old friend.” He shook my hands, giving me a warm smile. I was gazing into his dark eyes that matched my own. It was like I was searching for something, waiting for something. Is he gonna give me an explanation for his absence in my life, an apology for not pursuing a relationship with me, an acknowledgement that it was his loss? Some reason as to why I wasn’t worthy enough for him. None of those things happened though. There were no ‘I’m sorry’s’ uttered, no confessions made, no professions of love were given. Even still, it was a moment to be remembered. I could feel my life shifting, even as I stood there making the kind of small talk that’s usually reserved for strangers with my dad. They this was the beginning of something. I didn’t yet know what. But, tonight, 25 years later, I can tell you exactly how that knock on that door changed the trajectory of my life.
15:37 I went on to build a long distance relationship with my dad, my stepmom, and my four siblings. I still to this day have every single piece of mail any of them ever sent me. And in 2004, my husband and I made a big decision when we packed up from our home in Wisconsin and relocated to the Champaign-Urbana area, to experience life, right alongside all of them. It wasn’t a decision that we made lightly, knowing that my mom would have preferred to have us closer to her, but she has been nothing but supportive of me building a relationship with this side of my family. And can I just say, to all the single moms out there, you are rockstars! [applause].
16:24 I had the courage to knock on that door because I was raised by a fierce, independent, incredible woman. And it’s because of her that I’ve had the opportunity to experience holidays and birthdays in life with my dad, as we were welcomed into the family as if we’d always been a part of it. My entire childhood, I was just a stranger to my dad. And ironically, in the last couple of years, I became a stranger to him again, as his dementia became more and more advanced. Even though he had no clue who I was, I still visited him as often as possible when he was in the hospital last fall for a couple of months. And again after he was transferred to a nursing home. And I had the distinct honor of being in the room with him and my family when he transitioned out of this world and took his final breath just last month.
17:36 My message to you is simple: knock on that door, whatever your door is—an out of state move, a career change, a potential relationship. Sure, you don’t know what will happen if you walk through that door. But you just might be standing on the other side of one of the greatest decisions of your life [applause and cheers]
JENETTE 18:12 Holly, I can still see you standing on that stage. But I can see the 18 year old Holly standing in front of that door shaking, trying to make a really important decision. We’re so glad that you did. But take us through what it’s like to relive that experience, and I’m so sorry about your dad.
HOLLY 18:33 Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s interesting [chuckles]. I think so many times, I felt like, Nope, no, I’ve got this I’m strong. I’m not gonna cry, I’m gonna be okay. And I think the first time that I watched it back with the cast; we all we all got together and watched the whole the show back together. And I was like, this just gonna be so much fun, just a reunion and all we get to hug each other and be in the same room. And so I was just… I came in hyped up and excited. And then my story came on, and I lost it. I so, just unexpectedly. It was something like watching it as an audience member really for the first time and kind of, I was almost watching it, like experiencing it, thinking how the audience probably must have felt trying to listen to the details, and understand from moment to moment what was happening. And there was something just about that experience—thinking about women who had gone through something similar, had lost someone that they love, you know, listening to my story and being able to relate. That’s what was making me… it wasn’t even the obvious things where I where I was going, you know, I lost my dad, I’m reliving this moment. It wasn’t that, it was really thinking through how women in the audience must be feeling who know exactly what this feels like. And that was the thing that I was like, Oh my gosh, you know, I that is what makes me fall in love with That’s What She Said, is this ability to connect with women who maybe think differently, vote differently, look different, you know, grew up different have different stories. And we can all connect and understand each other on such a deep level, because, because we feel the same way, right? And so that’s how I watched it and felt all the feelings with everyone sitting there. I think Jenette, you even turned it off and said, “what, let’s take a break for a minute. What are you feeling? How are you doing?” That was my first experience with that?
JENETTE 20:30 Yeah, you can’t just live through something like that. And Okay, moving on. You got to feel it. I’m a big, big proponent of feeling the feelings of you know, really getting into the emotions.
KERRY 20:42 Yeah, I’m a pusher downer [Holly chuckles]. Jenette is a feeler and I’m like, There’s no feeling too big to bury. And I gotta tell you, then I had just said, “goodbye” to my own dad. And so then I was in the sprint of a 48 hours of pushing down, pushing down and like, let’s get through this and, and have fun and focus on all the light hearted stuff. And there were several times in that weekend where I would just like, look at Holly. And it was like, I knew, like she knew she knew all of those feelings, and the that all of us do, where you’re juggling that like feeling the feelings and unfortunate like I had to do it like, okay! But being in a space with all of those women who were so supportive, but specifically Holly who was sort of naming unknowingly naming so many of the feelings I was having it was, it was kind of nice, you did the heavy lifting for me.
HOLLY 21:32 Yeah. And I remember, actually, you were right in the front row of the audience. So I remember being able to see you the entire time. Where I couldn’t necessarily see everyone in the audience, including my family. I could see you and that was always on my mind. And then a couple of women on the stage too, I knew their stories with loss, specifically with their dad. So it was like, I never, I never forgot that. Even as I’m delivering my story. It’s like I was I was thinking of other people’s stories, as I’m delivering my own. It’s a really bizarre experience. But really beautiful. Again, like, it’s just this connecting opportunity. There’s something just really unique about it.
JENETTE 22:09 I think like Kerry said, you held a safe space for the feelings to be. But the feeling that I always remember from your story is actually the gratitude that you expressed. Because there’s, there’s another road that you could have taken where you would not even have been there.
HOLLY 22:09 Yeah,
JENETTE 22:23 You know, you would not have had years with this man and his family in your life. And you, you definitely resonated with gratitude throughout your whole experience.
HOLLY 22:44 Yeah, for sure. That’s a huge part of my story, and not just this specific piece of it, but just in everything; I feel so so grateful for just the trajectory of of my life. But certainly that experience, standing there and making that decision. Even as, even as you heard as I stood there, and I’m going should I should I I don’t know, I, I, It’s not too late to just leave, right? Like, maybe this isn’t, maybe this isn’t where I should be. And the fact that I did that, and made that choice, and how that’s changed so many things, and brought so many relationships into my life. I never, not for one second, do I feel ungrateful for that, you know, that’s, I always keep that close to the surface. So even the day after, “That’s What She Said”, standing on that stage and delivering that story. And my brother, you know, one of my brothers heard the story and sent me a text and said, “You know, I’m so glad that you knocked on that door.” And so I’m like that…that’s, that’s it right there. Right. Like, that’s the whole reason I wanted to share that story.
JENETTE 23:49 Right, because you said they, your siblings, didn’t know all the details that led up to that moment.
HOLLY 23:56 Yeah.
JENETTE 23:56 That you shared in your story there. You got to share all the doubts and the fears and the what ifs and your mom and, and for those siblings to hear your side of the story. Yeah, that’s amazing.
HOLLY 24:09 Yeah.
JENETTE 24:10 That’s so great.
HOLLY 24:12 Yeah, so worth it.
KERRY 24:13 What’s it been afterward? Like the the feedback from family and your friends? And what was that, like?
HOLLY 24:22 People were so lovely. It was wonderful to get just encouragement and positivity. And one thing I thought was really funny is that people would be like, well, you know, I’m not surprised because this is what you do. And I’m going what? I maybe I’ve spoken like one or two times before, but like I I don’t do this, I don’t see it in front of 1000 people
KERRY 24:40 Right
HOLLY 24:40 And share [Jenette laughs] some of the most intimate moments of my life with people you know, and and for people on the podcast to hear I’m like, this isn’t actually what I do. But that was a, that was such a kind compliment, because because I don’t have vast experience speaking publicly. So for people to be like, Well, I just, you know, I expected you to do a fantastic job, because you’re very experienced. So I’m like, well, thank you I’m not, but I’ll take that, you know. So, people were really kind, even strangers coming up to me, and then sharing their experience with something similar, or maybe they were adopted and knocked on their birth parent’s door. And that was actually one of my hopes, you know, was that I would be able to have this opportunity to connect with people in a, in a totally different way than is normal, you know, you don’t normally connect with strangers on this deep of a level. And so that was a really cool part of it. And something that I did expect, but still was surprised by it, you know. I kind of had this idea that this would happen, but I was still like, oh, wow, what’s happening? People want to people want to share, you know, how their, how our stories are similar and how they went through something similar. So that was a really cool thing. My husband was like, you know, I think I was a little bit surprised by the silence in the room. That’s something you know, I knew that it was, um, to I’m talking about a rather serious topic. But it was like, my husband described it perfectly, where he’s like, you could not hear a pin drop in the room. And he’s like, in a good way. Everyone was captivated from the first sentence that you spoke, it was like everyone was like, dead silent, waiting for the story to unfold. So I’m like, oh, that’s, that’s amazing. I didn’t, I don’t know what I expected. But there was something cool about that, because I could feel that. I could feel the energy in the room. And I could feel just, I could hear nothing but my own voice. And that’s something that just was unexpected, actually [Holly chuckles]. So I’m like, Oh, this is this is happening. I have a lot of people’s attention right now [Holly chuckles].
JENETTE 26:01 That is the trademark of a really experienced speaker.
KERRY ROSSOW 26:50
That’s why people thought that, I’m sure.
JENETTE 26:52 Absolutely! What you have is a natural talent, by the way; like you, you took it on, and your delivery was naturally so engaging, and your pauses felt so deliberate, the audience was on the edge of their seats just hanging on every word. So you, I know you worked on it, but some of it is just you, because you’re amazing. And you just have this beautiful pacing, that, you know, we we work with women to find, because pacing is so important in the delivery, and giving the audience time to process and digest and be in the moment with you. You gave everyone a gift of really being present, and really getting to be in that moment with you.
KERRY 27:36 Well, and it loops back to sort of what I said in the beginning of like she, you shared this really serious, heavy, personal specific situation. But in the end, you wound up encouraging everyone else. It was both things it was really serious, and there was that silent moment, and then it was so whatever’s on the other side of your door, you know, encouraging people to go do whatever the thing is. And I thought that that was really a gift to everyone. Like it’s not just me, everybody go, go do your thing.
JENETTE 28:08 And now here we are giving the gift of Holly Melby to women everywhere. Thank you for listening. Holly you’re a joy, you’re a pleasure. I would sign up to see you speak or share stories again. Do you have anything coming up?
HOLLY 28:21 I don’t have anything coming up right now. No, I wish I did. I wish I could say like yes tune in at duh-dud-duh.
KERRY 28:27 I would listen to Holly read the phone book.
JENETTE 28:29 Right? right?
KERRY 28:29 Like, that’s it. Tomorrow: phone book reading.
JENETTE 28:32 Absolutely. We’ll just we’re gonna reserve the studio. Just have you read. Just have you read.
HOLLY 28:36 Yeah. Done. [chuckles]
KERRY 28:40 Well that’s just what makes me happy. This is how I feel often about our speakers. I pass somebody on the street or I see someone on social media and it just makes makes my heart pitterpat. Like knowing they’re out in the world and they’re making their way and wondering how they are. But knowing all of like, that just the little nuggets of awesome that they are. And thinking this, these are the women that were in our cast. But really if you think of it broader, like everybody’s doing the best they can, and everybody’s looking for a way to get connected. And people like Holly just make it seem so seamless and effortless even though you know it does take effort. So, thank you for making everybody feel like they have a seat at the table always and making us do the scrunch up happy to see you. Always
HOLLY 29:22 Thank you for that compliment, that is that you get Can we just hang out all the time [Kerry laughs]? You guys just make women feel amazing! I love it.
JENETTE 29:29 Because you are amazing.
KERRY 29:30 You are!
JENETTE 29:31 We’re just holding up the mirror. That’s all we’re doing. And I hope everyone out there listening today can feel how amazing you are. Because you’re here listening to The She Said Project Podcast, women sharing stories. We know you have a story, and we hope we get to hear it one day. Thanks for joining us
Over and out!
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 29:53 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to https://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
Season six wraps up with our guest Holly Melby, who appeared on stage in Champaign in 2022. Holly tells Jenette and Kerry about the biggest decision she ever made in her life in her story, "The Other Side of the Door."
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.