Author Elizabeth Gilbert confirmed on Thursday that her partner Rayya Elias died with posts on Twitter and Instagram. Elias was 57.
Entertainment Tonight reports that Elias was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer in the spring of 2016. That summer, Gilbert separated from her husband José Nunes—a relationship that was famously recorded in her book Eat Pray Love—and a few months later, she announced her relationship with Elias on Facebook. The two were best friends, but Elias’s cancer diagnosis pushed Gilbert to realize the depth of her feelings:
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.
Elias and her family fled Syria when she was seven years old, and she wrote her memoir, Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side, in 2013. The book details her move from Detroit to New York City to become a musician, and includes her time spent living on the streets and struggling with drug addiction, which landed her in both rehab and prison. Elias and Gilbert were never legally married, but they shared a commitment ceremony in 2017. In her post about the “spontaneous ceremony of love” Gilbert wrote:
More difficult days are to come. It doesn’t get easier from here. Rayya’s illness is grave. But our love is strong. We will walk together as far as we can go together. After that, it all gets turned over to God.