real life

Her last shopping list for the man she loved.

Content note: This article discusses graphic themes and mentions suicidal ideation. If you need support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

When Amalia Melis introduced the world to her 30-year love story with her husband, Rouli, it was after what many would consider its conclusion.

Earlier this year, in a viral essay for The New York Times, Amalia details the profound grief of losing Rouli suddenly and brutally after a fall, exploring the singular pain of a lifetime with someone cut short in an instant. She also - in visceral, confronting detail - describes an ordeal bereaved family members must endure in Greece, where she lives: people are often forced to exhume the remains of their loved ones three years after their burial.

Yes, you read that right. 

Listen: Her Last Shopping List For The Man She Loved. Post continues below. 

“It’s for two reasons,” Amalia explains on this week’s episode of No Filter, “Firstly, there's no space for people to be buried in Greece, the country's very small, and secondly, in urban areas, and in some islands, it's tradition to put the bones in a box and keep it in ossuary, which is a room or a building with boxes lined up, one on top of the other. At least that's how it is on Andros.”

“I look into the pit like a weary archaeologist, nearly missing what is right under my nose,” she writes of the day, nearly six years after Rouli’s death, that she was forced to stand with a gravedigger named Eftyhios, peering in at what remained of her person. 


“Bones laid deep in the dirt, ripped pieces of lace from inside the coffin lid, long bones where your arms were, those arms that once held me.”

She continues:

“Then I see more: a jawbone, ribs, thigh bones. Your strong thighs wrapped around me so well. Words once flowed from that jawbone, kisses and goodbyes at airports, ferry docks, comforting murmurs as we drifted off to sleep. For 30 years I listened to you speak, but I cannot remember your voice now as I stand numb beside your grave.”

The details, along with the wrenching emotion her words convey are at times macabre- grotesque, even - but what soaks through Amalia’s exquisite prose is the realisation that love - like grief - never ends. If ever there was proof of love beyond the grave, in this case both literally and figuratively - Amalia’s piece, My Last Shopping List For Him is it.

The story of Amalia and Rouli began when the writer and artist, originally from the States, had moved back to her grandparents’ country in her early twenties, only to meet a 33-year-old businessman - also first generation American - who had moved back to his ancestral home as well.

Watch: Robin Bailey on losing her dad at a young age. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

“We were from the same neighbourhood in Astoria New York, where most of the Greek immigrants were,” Amalia explains, “I had gone to middle school with his sister, and we met in Athens through mutual friends.”

A whirlwind 10 years followed - Switzerland for Rouli, back to New York for a graduate degree for Amalia, then a move back to Greece for both of them, where they married in the same church in which her grandmother had exchanged vows decades earlier.

Then came a daughter, Ana, and somehow, the passing of 30 years of marriage.

“We had a good marriage,” Amalia reflects, “I was very happy. He was happy, and we were happy together. The year he passed away, we would have celebrated our 30 year anniversary of marriage.”

A few hours before Rouli died, Amalia was overcome with a sense of dread.

“January 4 was a great day,” she recalls, “we were in the centre of Athens, it was a sunny day, and we met friends for lunch. Everything was great. And then in the evening when we got home, something changed in me. I felt this heavy, heavy feeling in my chest, this darkness. I used to get these feelings when I was a kid before someone passed away, and it would scare me to death, so I kind of pushed it away as I was growing up. I told him, I have this really heavy, dark feeling in my chest, like this great, great sadness, like I've been crying forever and ever. And we kind of laughed at it and just wrote it off.”


A few hours later, Amalia woke up to a thud. 

“He had fallen down the stairs. We had a two-floor house and we had white marble steps. I found him with his face down, his arms behind him like he was diving, and his head cracked open in a pool of very thick blood. I didn't hear him scream. I didn't hear him say anything. He didn't call out for help. And that's how I found him.”

In the months that followed, Amalia entered into a grief that was at once intensely personal and also universal in its symptoms.

Women who had been close girlfriends suddenly stopped returning her calls. An accidental death insurance policy that Rouli had taken out cast temporary suspicion over Amalia, as the only one at home with him when he fell. For a year, she had to deal with questions from the police, as well as navigating the new shape of her life without its most crucial landmark.

“All I did was cry. I could not recover at all,” she says. “I couldn't think of anything, couldn't eat, I couldn't function. I stopped doing my mammograms, I stopped paying my US taxes. I stopped - I just stopped. And I was frozen for many, many years. It’s scary how frozen I was, because I just went through the motions for most things in life.”

Some things helped, eventually. Friends, the ones who stuck around. Family. Taking up winter swimming. “I swam almost every day in frigid waters, kind of hoping that maybe I would drown, and that would be the end of it,” she says dryly.


Writing, also, was a lifeline.

“I had to tackle this somehow,” says Amalia, “because often, grief can make you feel like you're losing your mind. And no one else around you can really feel what you're feeling because I'm the one who lost him. I'm the one who lived with him for so many decades. And that doesn't mean other people don't miss him. They miss him, of course they do. But I needed to write, because it's the only way I know how to express myself.”

In her essay, the writer explains how after Rouli’s bones were exhumed, she had assumed she would be able to take them back with her that day. Upon discovering she could not, Eftyhios the grave-digger placed one of Rouli’s finger bones in a small red pouch (“the finger is the strongest bone,” he explained) for her to return home with.

“When I finally arrive home, the first thing I do is open a good bottle of red wine, one that you and I would have liked. I pour a glass for me, and I pour some over your finger bone in your wine glass. I let the wine soak into your bone. And I raise my glass,” Amalia writes.

“Here’s to you, my Rouli. Here’s to how lucky I have been to love you, to live with you. You were so rare, so kind, so quiet in the coarse flow of life. Here’s to my accepting that, at least physically, you are gone. Here’s to hoping I can feel again. Here’s to hoping I can live again. Cheers.”

Feature Image: Supplied.

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