Recently, a Facebook post resonated deeply with me:
“Does anyone else feel that once you retired, pretty much no one you worked with cares to talk to you anymore… It’s sad after 20 plus years the people you met, could give two shits anymore.”
This sentiment, echoed by many, isn’t unique to any profession but hits hard for those of us in first responder and military roles.
The Hard Work of Friendship
Maintaining friendships requires effort, more so than many of us anticipate. For first responders and military personnel, the bonds formed are born out of shared experiences that are hard to replicate in civilian life. These aren’t just friendships; they’re forged in adversity, creating a depth of connection that’s hard to come by.
Yet, as one comment aptly put it, “You’re retired, you have time on your hands. They don’t…” This reality creates a disconnect. While one side has the time and perhaps the need to maintain these connections, the other is engulfed in the demands of the job.
The Necessity of Maintaining Friendships
The necessity of these friendships can’t be overstated, especially for those of us who have served. We understand each other in ways that others can’t. This shared understanding creates a support system that’s crucial for navigating the stress inherent in our roles.
Research underscores this, highlighting that strong social connections are crucial for mental health but require consistent nurturing to sustain. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that greater levels of perceived social support are associated with lower levels of depression and PTSD symptom severity among public safety personnel (Carleton et al., 2020). This evidence supports the critical role that maintained friendships play in the mental health and well-being of those in high-stress professions.
Bridging the Gap
Some departments are finding ways to bridge this gap. Monthly Retiree’s Coffee events or peer-to-peer programs for retired staff are examples of efforts to keep retired officers connected to the community they served with. These initiatives not only help maintain friendships but also provide a way for retirees to continue contributing, keeping the bond alive.
Reflecting on my own journey, I’ve seen how easy it is to drift apart from those I once stood shoulder to shoulder with. The comment about being able to count true friends on one hand hits home. It’s a sobering reality but also a call to action. We must work to maintain these connections, not just for our well-being but for the strength of the community we’ve built.
The work required to maintain friendships, especially those forged in the line of duty, is significant but necessary. It’s about making the effort, reaching out, and understanding that while we may no longer share the daily grind, we share a bond that’s worth preserving. Let’s not let those connections fade into memory. Instead, let’s invest in them, cherish them, and keep them alive. For in the end, these friendships are a testament to our shared experiences, our sacrifices, and our unwavering commitment to each other.
Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., Duranceau, S., LeBouthillier, D. M., … & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2020). Mental health and social support among public safety personnel. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7566747/
About Eric Basek
Eric is the co-founder of Stay Safe Foundation, a former law enforcement officer and a current Coast Guard reservist. He is the author of “Lessons in Cadence,” and is passionate about helping people better themselves through fitness. Eric is our director’s husband, and dad to Logan and their dog Rajah. They live in Florida.