Singer songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote a touching farewell letter to his late, great former lover Marianne Ihlen — just days before her death — a woman he had already immortalised in his song So Long, Marianne.

Cohen wrote the poetic note after Ihlen's friend told him she was losing her battle with leukemia. Cohen had lived with Ihlen in Montreal for seven years after meeting her (and her infant son) in the Sixties on the Greek Island of Hydra. She also inspired his songs Bird on a Wire and That's No Way to Say Goodbye.

But So Long, Marianne is one of Cohen's most affecting songs. It's tale of poignant love and its foundering, and the cycle of both: "to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again," Cohen notes in one of his most memorable lyrics.

Ihlen's pal, documentary filmmaker Jan Christian Mollestad, said Marianne slipped into a coma and died on 29 July two days after he read Cohen's letter to her. She was 81.

"Well Marianne it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon," Cohen wrote, Mollestad told CBC. "Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

"'You know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom ... I want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road."

Ihlen was buried in her native Oslo.

Cohen also opened his Facebook page to tributes to Marianne, the song and the woman. Mollestad posted to Cohen there:

"Your letter came when she still could talk and laugh in full consciousness. When we read it aloud, she smiled as only Marianne can. She lifted her hand, when you said you were right behind, close enough to reach her. It gave her deep peace of mind that you knew her condition. And your blessing for the journey gave her extra strength.

"In her last hour I held her hand and hummed Bird on a Wire while she was breathing so lightly. And when we left the room, after her soul had flown out of the window for new adventures, we kissed her head and whispered your everlasting words: So long, Marianne."