Syria-born writer Rayya Elias, the partner of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, has died of pancreatic and liver cancer at the age of 57. In emotional posts shared by Gilbert on social media, she wrote that being with Elias had “been the greatest honor of my life” and that “I will always love you.” Just four days ago, Gilbert had posted a picture of the couple celebrating the New Year together on Instagram.
“She was my love, my heart, my best friend, my teacher, my rebel, my angel, my protector, my challenger, my partner, my muse, my wizard, my surprise, my gift, my comet, my liberator, my rock star, my completely impossible non-cooperator, my otherworldly visitor, my spiritual portal, and my baby,” wrote Gilbert on Facebook. “I loved you so much, Rayya. Thank you for letting me walk with you right to the edge of the river.”
In September 2016, just two months after Gilbert announced that she had ended her marriage with Jose Nunes, the Brazilian trader she met and famously wrote about in Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert revealed that she had fallen in love with her best friend, Rayya Elias. Prompting the public declaration was a grim reality — Elias had recently been informed that she was suffering from terminal cancer.
“Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth,” Gilbert wrote at the time.
This past July, Gilbert wrote a song about Elias, “Happy Home,” that Elias performed herself in a powerful music video. Gilbert explained that Elias had been forced to cancel her one-woman show in New York City because of her declining health, and asked that those who had hoped to see Elias perform watch the video for “Happy Home” instead. The inspiration for the song, Gilbert explained, came from the Chinese myth of “The Banished Immortal,” a divine figure being cast from paradise to “live out one human incarnation on earth.”
“Banished immortals just keep trying to find, or create, or disappear into, a sense of heaven here on earth — because they remember what existence is supposed to feel like, and they know it isn’t supposed to hurt this much,” wrote Gilbert.
The music video for “Happy Home” can still be seen here on Elias’ website.
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