Grief is a hole in the soul. It is a hole that never fills in and, only with time, gets less tender around the edges. At least that is what I think grief is. It is a subject that one comes to understand the hard way, by losing a loved one.

I am not claiming to be an expert on grief, but I have had my fair share of losses in the past few years and I suppose writing about it may serve more self-interest than community wide interest. Sometimes you just have to say what is on your mind.

Grief is a very individual process and what I have to say on the subject will not apply to many people, but it will find common ground with some. There is a physical reaction to grief that takes many people by surprise. Of course, they usually don't have any idea how they will feel and when they develop vague symptoms that are hard to pin down they learn that anxiety, insomnia or loss of appetite may all be part of a grief reaction.

It seems to me that the more severe grief reactions happen when a person dies suddenly and unexpectedly. That would include car accidents as well as the loss of a child, which is a special kind of grief. I have had too many friends who have lost children. For them grief is not only a hole in the soul, but is almost as bad as having an arm or leg chopped off without anesthesia.

As time passes, the grip of grief loosens for most people, but there are those few who become life-long grievers. One look at them and you can tell they have never been able to move on with their lives after the loss of a loved one. Their life becomes defined by loss instead of growth, and that is a horrible burden to bear.

Others are able to move on. The direction and journey become highly individualized. Those who lose a spouse have to decide how they feel about taking on a new relationship and starting a new life. What is the right time after a death to move on? Eventually, most people know when to start walking down a new road. It could be six months for one person and six years for another.

Moving on means trying to understand what the end of a relationship means. It forces one to review the entire history of that relationship and start looking at every twist and turn in light of how they could have done better. Guilt, second guessing and remorse for things undone surface and a person has to figure out how to keep all of those feelings into perspective.

That kind of retrospective review can happen for a long time and it may hamper some people from moving on. Others may look at it as a positive sign, that they are coming to terms with the past and that they now can move on.

Once a person experiences the intensity of grief the door to those feelings never completely closes. It may be two years after a death and they smell something that smells the same as the perfume their wife wore, or they see a flower that reminds them of a time that they had together. There are times when a person doesn't know what put tears in their eyes, but they do know the particular loss that caused the tears.

The grief reaction surfaces for a lot of people around birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. The door may open much wider than a person wants. The best that anyone can do is to talk, appreciate friends and family and the time that they have been given to be able to move on.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net.