I remember seeing an interview with the fabulous Dame Maggie Smith some years ago in which she spoke movingly about the loss of her husband – and said that one of the worst things about widowhood was that you no longer felt “special”’ to anyone. 

This really resonated with me as I am sure it must do with any readers who have lost a dearly-loved partner.

But it’s not just the loss of a relationship that stops you feeling special. 

Many people experience similar emotions when their children leave home, or when they retire from a job that gave them great satisfaction. But we rarely talk about how we feel in these situations because we suspect it would sound truly pathetic if we said: “I don’t feel special anymore”. Or, “I used to feel important and now I don’t”.

I was talking to someone the other day who was urgently looking for a new challenge because he’d recently retired and felt a lesser person now that he no longer has the status he enjoyed during his successful career.

He told he that he felt “redundant”. And I could see the pain in his eyes as he recalled the many years when he had felt important, special, and – above all – useful.

Many of us know what that feels like. And it’s tough. We should try though to remind ourselves that the loss is only so great because we were extremely fortunate to be in jobs that fulfilled us, or in relationships that meant the world to us. No one can take our memories away. We’ve been lucky.

Having said all that, I do know that you may still feel very down, and not much like yourself. So, is there anything you can do to regain your belief that life remains full of possibilities and that you’re a viable individual who still has loads to offer?

Well actually, nowadays we don’t need to look very far to find people and organisations crying out for help. Finding the right avenue for our skills might take a while, but it seems to me that rarely has there been a time when more support was needed.

The first step perhaps would be to check if all your family are coping. So many younger couples are worried about money, and about spending too little time with their children because of work commitments. Is there something you could do to make their lives easier?

Or what about your neighbours? Is there someone sick near you who could really use practical assistance with dog walking or shopping? You might at first wonder if these sorts of tasks would offer you the stimulus or satisfaction you derived from your career. 

But actually, I think you’ll come to realise that hands-on-help which makes a crucial difference to how someone else gets through difficult days, is enormously fulfilling.

Then there’s local politics. Have you always avoided getting involved in something you believe in because you never had the time? Well, perhaps you have the time now. 

A friend of mine became a councillor last May and I’m sure she’s a better one than she would have been when she was younger, because she has so much more maturity and life experience to bring to it now. Why not investigate what you could do?

I know someone who became a volunteer in a nursing home after his wife died. He looked after her during a long illness and missed having that responsibility. 

So now he goes and reads to men and women who would otherwise have no visitors, and he knows this makes a significant contribution to their existence. As a result, he feels more purposeful and has a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Could you offer time and care? If so, what about investigating voluntary jobs within our cash-strapped, crisis-ridden NHS? Could there be a better time than now to step up and help it?

There are so many roles, including: hospital governor, ward-co-ordinator, fundraiser, volunteer driver, support to admin staff, or a responder who reassures and supports patients when waiting for an ambulance. 

You can find more information and ideas by contacting the Volunteer Service Manager at your local hospital or by visiting the NHS Volunteering Website https://volunteering.england.nhs.uk

Another area many of us feel is vital to our lives, but which is struggling right now, is the arts sector. Many theatres, concert halls and comedy clubs are in dire need of volunteer support to usher in audiences, sell programmes, run coffee shops, bars, and so on. Could this be for you?

If so, ask your local venue what help they need, or take a look at the Arts Society website: www.theartssociety.org/arts-volunteering-0

Research shows that volunteering raises our self-esteem and makes us happier and more productive. It can also help us to feel special and important, albeit in a different way from how we once did.