Throughout the one-woman show The 7 Stages of Grieving, the Woman reshuffles the traditionally-defined seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. Rather than moving forward through these stages in a linear manner, the Woman vacillates between them—and though she ultimately seems to arrive at a kind of acceptance, that acceptance is not defined by peace, but rather by numbness. “I feel nothing,” the Woman says at the end of the play, as a beam of bright light covers her. Through this, Enoch and Mailman suggest that, for people affected by generational trauma, colonial violence, and structural oppression, grieving is not a straightforward process. Instead, the process of grief is a constant struggle between feeling and numbness, a wavering between confronting pain and dissociating from it.
Throughout the play, the Woman experiences tremendous grief, but her grief is never a linear progression through the seven identified stages. Instead, she moves between intense emotion and utter numbness, with numbness often taking over when her emotions become too much to bear. In this way, the play shows how endless, circular, and messy the process of grieving truly is. In the play’s second scene, for example, the Woman struggles to process her grief, sobbing in the darkness until her cries become unbearably loud. As the lights go up, images of mourning, sorrow, and grief are projected around the stage until, at last, they go blank—the projection spaces are then replaced with the words “I feel… Nothing.” This shows the audience both the intensity of the woman’s grief and how quickly her emotions can change, as she cycles quickly between sorrow and numbness and then back to sorrow again (which happens in the very next scene, when she sings about the heavy sensation of weeping). These rapid shifts between deep feeling and no feeling characterize the Woman’s emotional journey for the remainder of the play, showing how the path through grief is not a straight line—instead, moving through grief is an endless push and pull between different states of being, feeling, and reacting.
In addition to showing that grief is nonlinear, the play explores the burdensome nature of grief. The suitcase— where the family stores mementoes of the dead—embodies the weight of grief. Throughout the play, the Woman relays stories of losing family members to death, alcoholism, and vicious cycles of poverty and incarceration—griefs that wind up, symbolically, in her suitcase. However, she can’t continue to carry the suitcase forever, since the grief it contains becomes too much to bear. By the end of the play, the Woman expresses to the audience the fear that her heart is “hardening” to not just the suffering of others, but to her own grief as well. Because of this, she symbolically abandons her suitcase at the audience’s feet before declaring she feels “nothing,” showing her choice not to continue to carry around her pain. The fact that the Woman ends the play by stating that she “feel[s] nothing” suggests that she either wants or needs to distract or sever herself from the burdens of grief, generational trauma, and colonial oppression that have defined her life. This speaks to Enoch and Mailman’s central point about grief: that the notion of grief being a linear process of moving through seven discrete stages and then feeling healed is not realistic for people facing such profound and burdensome grief. For people like the Woman, grief doesn’t necessarily end in healing—in fact, it doesn’t necessarily end at all.
Feeling vs. Numbness ThemeTracker
Feeling vs. Numbness Quotes in The 7 Stages of Grieving
I feel... Nothing
The Woman lights up a wad of eucalypt leaves and watches them burn. She blows out the flame and as the embers smoke she sings a song for the spirits of those that have gone before her and asks permission to tell the story of her grief.
I miss my grandmother. She took so many stories with her to the grave. Stories of her life, our traditions, our heritage from her now gone. I resent that.
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.
The Woman walks over to the grave and embraces the block of ice. Springing away, she turns to the audience and clutches her breast.
THE WOMAN: Oh my sousou.
The Woman sits on the edge of the grave.
I’m trying to deal with Dad’s death. He hasn’t died yet, but the time is coming soon when he’ll be taken away.
They come in the front door
I invited them in, they demanded respect.
They sat in my father's seat
And talked to me of things that made no sense.
I nodded. Listened. Gave them my ear
As I was always taught to.
Thinking that tomorrow will be a better day, I go to bed. Kicking that sniffer dog out. Still with the sound of sirens in my head. Snuggling up to my doona and pillow. Morning comes, I wake up, looking in the mirror. Nice hair, beautiful black skin, white shiny teeth. I'M STILL BLACK! NUNNA!
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 ambulance got there and they had to pump needles into him, they were pounding his chest, giving mouth-to-mouth, whilst the others stood back and watched. They took him to the Royal Brisbane Hospital, pounding and pushing his limp body.
The Woman returns to the written word.
The resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful and at 7.13 p.m. he was pronounced dead.
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.
You know there has always been this grieving,
Grieving for our land, our families.
Our cultures that have been denied us.
But we have been taught to cry quietly
Where only our eyes betray us with tears.
But now, we can no longer wait,
I am scared my heart is hardening.
I fear I can no longer grieve
I am so full and know my capacity for grief