Published on April 23, 2022
At Alive, we help our patients and their loved ones live as well as possible, even in their final months, days, and hours. An important part of this is appreciating the legacy they leave, those gifts and life lessons that will continue their unique contribution to others even after they have died.
We were honored to care for Soroush Sanai-Araghi in 2021 and walk alongside her at the end of her life. Susan Hyatt-Birnholz, her daughter, was kind enough to share her mother Soroush’s legacy with us.
Soroush was born in Tehran in 1933 and led an unusual life as an artist, émigré, world traveler, female groundbreaker, and much-loved mother. Susan shared her mother’s inspiring story with us.
“Sharing my mom’s talents, wisdom, and legacy means everything to me. I want the world to know who Soroush was and what an incredible talent she had. She not only inspired me to be the best version of myself, but she was a kind soul who always gave to charity and helped others…I credit my mom for always teaching me how important it is to be educated and to help others. I’m so proud to be her daughter. She taught me to never give up and encouraged me to pursue my passion as a Marriage and Family Therapist.”
Tell us about your mom…
My mom Soroush Sanai-Araghi was born in Tehran in 1933. She came from a very close tight-knit family. Her father came from a modest background and was self-made. He sold Persian carpets and was an entrepreneur and real estate developer in Tehran. Soroush had two brothers and one sister. She was the middle child. She lived a very cultured life. She went to boarding schools in Switzerland and London. As a little girl, she would spend her time in museums in Europe. This is where her affinity for art began.
Although she was an artist at heart, Soroush also had a strong affinity for medicine and for helping people. During that time, it was very rare for a woman to attend medical school. However, she attended medical school in Geneva for a couple of years and met my father Morteza there. She dropped out of school, and they got married in Paris. This was her second marriage.
In 1967, Soroush went to Seattle (where her brother Sassan resided and worked as a doctor) to give birth to me, her only child, Susan. Shortly after my birth, my parents got divorced. My father wanted a much more conservative upbringing for me than my mother felt comfortable with. She stuck to her values and became a single Mom. She moved to Los Angeles in 1975 to be near her sister, Farhin.
Soroush was a very creative and artistic person. She studied fashion design in Paris and started her own line of clothing called “En Ville” (which means “In the City”). She and her sister had their own clothing store in Woodland Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, called “The Peacock Throne” (named after the Shah’s throne) in the late 1980s and 1990s.
After the Iranian revolution, she went back and forth to Iran trying to save her family’s fortune all by herself, but the revolution claimed her family’s properties and her inheritance. She started painting when she came back to Iran in her 70’s. I think of Mom as our decade’s “Grandma Moses.” She was so ambitious and always learning.
At 65, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She went through years of chemotherapy and won that battle only to be hit with cancer again 20 years later. When the cancer returned, it was stage 4 Gastric Cancer. The doctors told her she had 6 months to live, but she lived 7 more years. Mom was a fighter, and she was known by doctors as a “medical miracle.” In 2015, I moved her with my family from Los Angeles to Nashville. She contracted COVID-19 in March of 2020 and survived that too.
In October of 2021, Mom shared with me that it was time for her to leave the earth and join the rest of her family in heaven. I contacted Dr. Anh Meadows, our most trusted doctor at Alive Hospice. Mom got excellent hospice care from Alive at her nursing home at NHC Franklin. She passed peacefully in her sleep on November 30, 2021. Soroush was cremated, and her remains rest next to her parents’ remains at Forest Lawn Mortuary in Glendale, CA.
My husband Michael and I feel so blessed to have been there with Mom as she took her last breath. We miss her deeply, and she is in our thoughts every day. Soroush Sanai Araghi wrote her memoirs shortly before she passed. Her book, Croissants and Chemo – The Memoirs of a Persian Artist, will be available on Amazon.com in late 2022.
What did her art focus on, and what did it mean to her?
Soroush was a big fan of Impressionism. One of her favorite artists was Monet. Painting was her therapeutic outlet. She was a natural talent and only took a few years of painting classes. She painted in a variety of styles including Surrealism, Renaissance, Expressionism, Abstract, and Classical. Her art was an extension of herself, and she generously gave her paintings to all her family members. I put a book together of pictures I was able to take of her art. Her book is called “A Work of Art – Soroush Sanai Araghi.”
What does it mean to you to be able to share it with others?
Sharing my mom’s talents, wisdom, and legacy means everything to me. I want the world to know who Soroush was and what an incredible talent she had. She not only inspired me to be the best version of myself, but she was a kind soul who always gave to charity and helped others.
How did Alive support your family?
Alive Hospice and Dr. Anh Meadows were like a second family to us. My Mom went into residential hospice at Alive in 2019, when we thought she was close to death. Dr. Meadows was always there for us. The nurses at Alive would communicate with me daily and give me reports. Mom made it through the first round of hospice but had to go back in 2021 as an outpatient. The staff at Alive Hospice are exceptional and amazing human beings.
Anything else you would like to share?
I credit my mom for always teaching me how important it is to be educated and to help others. I’m so proud to be her daughter. She taught me to never give up and encouraged me to pursue my passion as a Marriage and Family Therapist.