“There’s Nothing Wrong with Her” by M.B. Yakoubian

There’s Nothing Wrong with Her

M.B. Yakoubian
Full Court Press (2021)
ISBN: 9780578886473
Reviewed By Tim Schueler for Reader Views (01/2022)

“There’s Nothing Wrong with Her” is a memoir by M.B. Yakoubian documenting her aging mother’s elder care. There is real life drama marked with sadness, sweetness, and a familial struggle for control, all set against the backdrop of advancing dementia.

After surviving the 1915 Armenian purge, Ms. Yakoubian’s father, Leon Yakoubian, arrives on America’s shores in 1920 to begin a new life. Leon meets Elise Souroghlian (the author’s mother, who is also an immigrant, from Turkey and Syria) and they marry. By all measures, Leon’s and Elise’s story is one of immigrant success—thrift, honesty, and piousness which allows for fulfilling work and home ownership—first in Connecticut, then later in Florida. This was a traditional marriage for the time; Leon was the breadwinner and made the family’s decisions, and Elise ran the home. They were happy together and had three children, two sons and a daughter.

Elise is a caring woman with a big smile who’s all about family, church, and community. An excellent mother, she’s very close with her only daughter, Mary. The family is, however, paternal, and Leon does the decision-making. Elise is content with this; most of her adult life, she is shielded from family practicalities, such as finances. When Leon passes, he leaves her with enough money to live on and the Florida home that’s completely paid off. Though shaken by her husband’s death, she remains active with her immediate and extended families, her neighbors, and her church community, and continues to travel—she lives independently for a number of years without issue.

Over time, however, Mary notices her mother’s cognitive decline and a drop in cleanliness standards during her visits to see Elisa in Florida. Although Elise has a cleaning woman who also takes her shopping, this woman’s work is becoming suspect. Conflict enters the story when family discussions are had as to what to do. One brother has been institutionalized with substance abuse issues and doesn’t play into decisions. The other brother, Lenny, is a lawyer with a keen interest in maintaining the financial worth of their mother’s estate. On the surface, this is presented as preserving her nest egg; dig deeper, and it’s an obvious effort not to spend the estate away before Lenny can get his share of the inheritance when Elise passes on. Therefore, Lenny and Mary do not see eye-to-eye on the best care for their mother. Between the distance (both live far away from their mother in Florida), and the family dynamic (that the man is always right), many initial decisions go Lenny’s way because “doctors always play things up” and “there’s nothing wrong with her” when clearly there is. As Elise’s cognitive strength declines, the two siblings’ back-and-forth family decision disagreements spill over into the court system. Lenny, the lawyer, uses this to his advantage and large amounts of time and energy are wasted during the squabbling. You need to read the book to know if the outcome is a positive one.

The heartfelt emotions spread out on these pages are stunning. There is joy in the author’s ‘voice’ when she recalls how bright her mother’s smile was, and how fun it was to visit her in Florida; take her shopping and out to lunch. But there’s true sorrow when having to watch Elise grow frailer and less tethered to this world. There is fear when several examples of dangerous senior care “near misses” are described. There is anger, mostly directed at the selfish, wheedling brother Leon, who is obviously attempting to retain as much of the inheritance for himself as possible at the expense of good quality care for his mother. And there is sadness and confusion within the author herself, wondering if she could have done more…or seen the roadblocks and pitfalls sooner.

Reading “There’s Nothing Wrong with Her” is bittersweet and offers a cautionary tale on eldercare best practices.

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