The central symbol in The 7 Stages of Grieving is a suitcase, which symbolizes the weight of grief. As the play’s central character, the Woman, shares stories about personal, political, and communal grief, she moves back and forth between states of intense pain and eerie numbness. Her suitcase is the object most associated with this difficulty in processing her grief. The suitcase—which belongs to the Woman’s whole family—is filled with photographs of family members who have either died or become estranged; each time the family loses someone, they immediately place all their photographs of that person inside the suitcase, which marks the beginning of their grieving process. On the one hand, putting the photographs into the suitcase makes grieving more manageable. It’s a concrete step in the grieving process that acknowledges loss and safeguards cherished memories. In fact, the symbolism is somewhat literal here: by putting the pictures into a suitcase—the very function of which is to make carrying its contents easier—the family is making it easier to carry their grief. Nonetheless, that grief is still heavy—and sometimes it’s too heavy to bear. Midway through the play, for instance, the Woman recalls when her Aunty Grace, upon visiting her recently deceased mother’s grave, dragged her suitcase out of the car and scattered its contents across the cemetery, symbolizing that her grief had become too much to carry. Likewise, as the Woman interacts with her family’s suitcase, she sometimes carries it easily and other times finds it too much to bear. At various points in the play, she buries the suitcase in the red earth, moves it from place to place across the stage, unpacks it, repacks it, and, at last, lays it at the feet of the audience before stepping away from it and declaring that she feels “nothing.” The suitcase, then, is the battleground for the Woman’s struggle between facing her pain and surrendering to numbness—carrying the suitcase indicates living with pain, and emptying or burying the suitcase symbolizes the state of numbness that the Woman experiences when she can no longer face her suffering. At the end of the action, the Woman is still messily moving through the many stages of grieving, attempting to wrangle the many layers of her sorrow, her family’s struggles, and her people’s pain.
The Suitcase Quotes in The 7 Stages of Grieving
But this suitcase, which resides under the old stereo tightly fastened, lies flat on the floor comfortably out of reach. Safe from inquisitive hands or an accidental glance. In the suitcase lies the photos of those who are dead, the nameless ones. With an unspoken gesture we remove the photo of my nana from her commanding position on the wall and quietly slip her beneath the walnut finish. And without a sound push her into the shadow.
I drive Aunty Grace out to the cemetery on our way to the airport. She doesn't have much luggage, there is plenty of room but no one from the family comes to see her off. I wait in the car while she goes out to the freshly turned soil of Nana’s grave. She is there for such a long time, I think we are going to be late. Finally she returns to the car, opens the back door and removes a suitcase. She opens it and proceeds to throw the contents all over the ground, everything. […] Crying, at last, crying.
The Woman paints herself as if preparing for war. Though her movements are restricted her voice assails the audience with a sense of all-encompassing sorrow. She takes the suitcase, opens it, throwing the red earth and family photos it contains all over the floor. The Woman grieves over the photographs.