This week I want to focus on distances and how painful they can seem.

But these particular distances are not geographic like the ones where your son lives in Newcastle, and you live in East Anglia.

They’re distances created by the passage of time; distances that can seem very hard to bear over the Christmas period.  

There’s a big community on social media of people who are grieving.

And what I’ve noticed during the festive season is just how devastated some have felt at the length of time there’s been – and the way it keeps increasing – since they had a different kind of life, with someone who is no longer with us.  

Personally, I think this sorrow regarding time-passing is a very big part of the grieving process, though it is rarely discussed. But it doesn’t tend to hit the bereaved till several weeks or even months after their loss.   

In the early days after the demise of someone special, everything’s so busy because there’s a death to register, bank accounts and insurances to sort out, a funeral to arrange, and lots of communication with relatives and friends to tell them the sad news.

We may feel intense misery at the empty spaces that were once filled by the person who has gone.

We may acknowledge that their body is in a mortuary in town, or lying in a grave but we know that they were so much more than just their physical self, and we feel acute pain and bewilderment that this dearly loved individual is no longer present on the planet.

This is a tough period, where we accept the reality of their passing and have to face the fact that what has happened has removed them permanently from the world we shared together.  

But later we often begin to feel more concerned about distance in relation to the 
passing of time.

And judging by everything I’ve read and discussed recently, this is the aspect of loss that has loomed most largely over the holidays.

Many folk have posted social media messages like “Once we hit 2024, I’m going to have to start saying that I lost my wife last year when I’ve only just got used to explaining that she died this year. Time is taking her further and further away from me. I hate this. It feels the worst thing of all.”   

I doubt if many of us knew about, or expected, this particular phase.  

So, some of you reading this column who have experienced difficult feelings of this nature may have kept quiet about them for fear of seeming somewhat odd.

Trust me, you’re not. Loads of people feel this anguish. It’s very much a symptom of grief. 

Back in 2018, when I realised my husband had been dead for 10 whole weeks, I found it unbelievably painful.

Suddenly, this seemed a huge amount of time and I kept thinking how when he was alive, we were rarely apart for 10 hours, and how 10 weeks was far, far too much. And how, against my will, it was if he had been propelled into a different, incomprehensible and hostile time zone where I could not follow. 

I’m sure that what I’m describing has happened to many of you. 

So, if Christmas and new year have amplified your sense of loss in this way, is there anything that might help? 

I think there is. 

The first thing is to try to accept that the pain you’re suffering is not going to last at this intensity. The chances are that tomorrow or the following day you will feel slightly better. 

Secondly, do all you can to bring your spouse, or parent, or close friend or whoever you mourn back to the centre of your existence.

Talk a lot about him or her to friends and family. Look at photographs. When it’s not raining get out into the garden that he or she loved or take a walk that you enjoyed together.

Listen to music that was special to you both. Watch a comedy that always made you laugh. Dig out the greetings cards you treasure from the person who’s departed and read again the tender, loving messages to you. 

The main anxiety for us as we attempt to deal with this experience is that somehow this most special person of ours is being removed to such a far-off place that they will no longer feel real, and our loss will be all the greater.

Bringing them firmly into our present life through talking, or other strategies, is comforting. It also reassures us that we didn’t dream the lovely life we had together. We lived it.

To the full. And we have the memories and mementoes to prove it, which we can cherish forever.