Monday, June 11, 2012

Entering the Blue Stone: Guest Post by author Molly Best Tinsley

The opening chapter of Entering the Blue Stone is all about denial.  My sister and brother express their growing alarm that our aging parents are teetering on the brink of domestic disaster, losing the ability to manage their lives on their own.  As the oldest, and the one who’d always taken care of them emotionally, I don’t want to deal with the possibility.    So I fly 800 miles to pay them a visit, and with all the signs of crisis staring me in the face, I convince myself that everything is, if not all right, then at least within the bounds of normalcy. The alternative is just too overwhelming.

But the alternative was real, and it wasn’t going away.  Our father had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and our mother was showing scary signs of dementia.  When all this happened a decade ago, Alzheimer’s disease hovered over the end of life like the fate worse than death.  It hummed with all the negative, almost shameful energy cancer had twenty years before, a horrific diagnosis people whispered and discussed in euphemisms.  It couldn’t be happening to our mother, it just couldn’t.

It wasn’t until the situation exploded in our faces that my siblings and I began to act—once we had no choice, and no time to lose.  Maybe if we’d given ourselves more time to plan by admitting the reality sooner, the transition for our parents might have happened more smoothly, less traumatically.  Maybe under less pressure to make a quick decision, we might have investigated in more depth and detail the brand new continuing care facility we chose.  But would we ever have been prompted to ask key questions about treatment of the elderly—about chemical restraints, about behavioral expectations and policies for working with residents who weren’t meeting them?  I don’t know.  You have to have a certain amount of information to begin to frame questions, and we had none.    

Once we were working together, we were able to share, and thus relieve our private panic and sorrow at the debilitation we saw gripping our parents.  We could take on their rescue as a team; as a team, we insisted on their comfort and welfare.  After years of living apart, we bonded around visits to their continuing care facility, which happened to be near my brother’s house.  Unfortunately, our teamwork didn’t have the power to override the incredibly flawed systems in place at the facility.  Our renewed bond did have the power to bring us through the experience with our sanity intact.  It provided the release of frustration and grief, not to mention frequent fits of hysterical laughter.  So did writing Entering the Blue Stone.

What happens when one's larger-than-life military parents--disciplined, distinguished, exacting--begin sliding out of control? The General struggles to maintain his invulnerable façade against Parkinson's disease; his lovely wife manifests a bizarre dementia. Their three grown children, desperate to save the situation, convince themselves of the perfect solution: an upscale retirement community. But as soon as their parents have been resettled within its walls, the many imperfections of its system of care begin to appear.

Charting the line between comedy and pathos, Molly Best Tinsley’s memoir, Entering the Blue Stone dissects the chaos at the end of life and discovers what shines beneath: family bonds, the dignity of even an unsound mind, and the endurance of the heart.

ABOUT MOLLY - Air Force brat Molly Best Tinsley taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is the institution’s first professor emerita. Author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), she also co-authored Satan’s Chamber (Fuze Publishing) and the textbook,The Creative Process (St. Martin’s). Her fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been read and produced nationwide. She lives in Oregon, where she divides her time between Ashland and Portland. 


  1. Amazing write-up! Great blog, more power to you!

  2. Wendy, thanks for featuring Molly today.

  3. Molly - I think your story will provide a framework for others that increasingly find themselves in this situation, or at least a chance to laugh to relieve the tension. Thanks for sharing your story!


The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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