real life

The love of Elizabeth Gilbert's life died 10 months ago. But she still calls her every day.


Elizabeth Gilbert considers herself a willing student of grief. She listens eagerly, openly, to what it has to teach her about itself.

They are lessons that the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love has been working through for 10 months now, since she watched the love of her life, Rayya Elias, die from liver and pancreatic cancer.

In a post in Instagram, the 49-year-old shared perhaps the most fundamental of them all;  “I cannot live without Rayya, so I don’t: I draw her near.”

To do so she dances, daily: “I say to Rayya: ‘You pick the song’, then I hit SHUFFLE, and I dance to whatever music she chooses. Sometimes it’s AC/DC, sometimes it’s Mozart. It’s always perfect.”

She writes: “I open my laptop and type the words: ‘I need you Rayya,’ then I allow my fingers to type her responses. She’s always right there to help me — just as wise & funny as ever.”

She speaks: “I discovered that the act of leaving her a ‘message’ on my phone makes me feel like I’m in communication with her. Something about the fact that the message is being recorded makes me feel like it’s being received. So I get to talk to her, laugh with her, cry with her.”


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Never was there ever a more beautiful face.

A post shared by Elizabeth Gilbert (@elizabeth_gilbert_writer) on


Elizabeth knows it might not seem rational, but to her it’s all very real.

“I am unembarrassed to create my own healing. I will demand from Rayya, and from Spirit, whatever my heart needs,” she wrote.

“For anyone who is suffering loss, I encourage you: Be creative. Be INVENTIVE. Be strange. Demand union. Find ways.”

Elizabeth and Rayya’s love story.

Elizabeth and Rayya, a Syrian-born writer and musician, were friends long before they were partners. Best friends. But it was the terminal diagnosis in late 2016 that awoke the truth within the author – that this was something more, something great.

The news followed the revelation only two months earlier than Gilbert was leaving her partner of twelve years, Jose Nunes, who featured in her bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love.


But as she wrote at the time, “The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with [Rayya], holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her… well, that thought was unthinkable.”

The couple had more than a year together before Rayya died on January 4, 2018, in New York.


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Nothing is stopping me from loving her forever.

A post shared by Elizabeth Gilbert (@elizabeth_gilbert_writer) on

Though Elizabeth has said watching Rayya suffer was “horrific”, “unbearable”, the time since has allowed room for perspective on it all.


Speaking on a recent episode of The TED Interview podcast, she offered an idea of grief as something not to be managed or overcome, but something that “happens upon you”, that’s bigger than you.

“It has its own time-frame, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes… It comes in the middle of the night, it comes in the middle of a day, it comes in the middle of a meeting, it comes in the middle of a meal. It arrives. It’s this tremendously forceful arrival. And it cannot be resisted without your suffering more,” she said.

“So the way that I’m learning how to dance with grief is that when it comes – I get about 10 seconds warning, like oh shit, it’s coming right now – the posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility, and you let it rock you until it’s done with you. And it will be done with you eventually, and when it’s done it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, to fight it, is to hurt yourself.”

For Gilbert, the experience of grieving echoes another: “As they say, it’s the price you pay for love. And the moments in life when I’ve been in love, where I’ve fallen in love, I have just as little power of it as I do in grief,” she told host, TED boss Chris Anderson.

“It’s an honour to be in grief. It’s an honour to feel that much, to have loved that much.”

For more from Elizabeth Gilbert, listen to her chat with Mamamia’s No Filter podcast…