Weathering the Storm
Norma Moxley Sings - But Does Not Live - the Blues
By Annalise de Zoete
"Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky, stormy weather. . keeps raining all the time," Norma Moxley sings on her recording of Stormy Weather. Although this talented and lively stroke survivor might have reason to believe these lyrics after her experience, it’s clear they are far from reflecting her attitude about life.
On May 22, 1992, Moxley, an athletic mother of two young children, developed an intense headache and blacked out while in her office at Human Sciences Press where she worked as editor-in-chief of psychiatric books and journals. This busy New York City woman was rushed from her office to St. Vincent’s Hospital where she later suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. Moxley fell into a coma and doctors feared she would either lose her battle completely or wake up and suffer very limited functioning.
The doctors were wrong.
Moxley woke up after eight weeks in a coma, surprising doctors, friends and family. Nevertheless, her life had changed: she suffered from severe aphasia, extensive loss of memory and right side paralysis. Her marriage failed and she was forced to leave New York City for rehabilitation. Stormy weather, it seemed, had arrived and was here to stay.
But the winds of change prevailed and Moxley proved doubters wrong again.
After five years of rehabilitation and hospitalization, Moxley returned to New York City. She had worked hard in therapy and recovered much of her functioning. Now, with a community-based program through the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State, she has an apartment of her own and is starting again.
Returning to New York proved to not be the end of her recovery, but rather the beginning. “Being in New York, she has a much richer life than if she had been in an institution,” says Moxley’s sister, Emily Kales.
With a background in classical piano, acoustic guitar and singing, Moxley began redeveloping her musical skills. Although she lost the ability to play instruments after her stroke, Moxley focused on developing her vocal talent. She found that, while speaking was still an obstacle, singing was a key to her communication and well being. She hired a voice coach and practiced weekly, eventually assembling two albums. One album, Norma Moxley Sings the Blues is a collection of her seven favorite classics including One Mint Julep, St. Louis Blues and House of the Rising Sun.
Moxley’s musical reclamation played a vital role in her recovery. Kales described her sister’s move into singing and recording as “very good therapy. It helped her recover a sense of pride in herself and meaning and contribution.”
Her stroke might have cost Moxley her athleticism, husband and job, but her inner strength has carried her through. “I don’t think she feels sorry for herself,” Kales says. ”The thing about Norma is her spirit. She never dwelled on who she used to be.
"Norma’s story is that of a miraculous journey, both back and then forward from the edge of hopelessness," Kales stresses. Through her optimism, hard work and support, Moxley has created a new life, championing hope and recovery - singing, rather than living, the blues.