As I drove to the retirement party of a former NYPD colleague, I removed my tie and threw it on the seat next to me. I figured I'd be overdressed as I usually am at work occasions nowadays. When I parked and got out of the car, I changed my mind; not wearing a tie to an event just didn't feel right. As I fastened it back around my neck, I felt anxious about going into the affair. All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind, "Who would I see? It's been years since my own retirement from the job; I must look older; what if people don't remember me?"
When I walked into the busy catering hall, I was immediately greeted by a cop I used to work with, "Sarge! What's up? Great to see you!" I remembered his smile from years ago and after a bear hug and a few back slaps, he walked me into the big dining room. After some handshakes and a few laughs about my new beard, I settled into the room and noticed that every single man in the room was wearing a suit and tie; my instincts from my former life had served me well!
A hush came over the dining room as a man stepped to the microphone and welcomed everyone. He introduced the NYPD Ceremonial Unit in their impeccable dress uniforms, displaying the colors and proudly standing tall. Our National Anthem was sung as all the people in the room of different races, genders and nationalities put their hands on their chests. When the uniformed singer was finishing his honored task, the room erupted in applause. I got goose bumps. I was in the right place.
Then there was the benediction, with a reverend leading a prayer for the safety of the men and women of the NYPD and those serving in the military. All the people in the room of different faiths and beliefs bowed their heads, creating a shared sense of stillness and peace. I felt a great sense of pride standing with them. I had forgotten what it was like to stand with this group of people, united by a vocation, a way of life, with a purpose higher and more important than our personal differences. I realized at this event that I really missed that. I also came to understand why I felt a sense of loss after I retired. I couldn’t quite find a reason for it then, but it felt like a loss. I was happy and grateful to retire and move forward, but somehow something was missing.
Since I retired from the Department, I have become a clinical social worker and I see patients in a private practice. It took years of school, but it was worth all the work. When I began my new career, I appreciated my colleagues who were intelligent, compassionate people, but somehow I felt different, like I just didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t have to wear a uniform, show up at 0600 hours for work, or wait for my “RDOs” to get anything in my personal life done; my schedule was my own. It sounds like a dream, and it was great, but I missed the structure and regimented way of life that I was accustomed to as a member of the service.
The retirement party that I attended that night, and my indecisiveness about wearing the tie, made me realize something important as well. The feeling that I had when I retired that “something was missing,” was actually my own doing. I had been trying to deny who I was. I knew for years that I wanted to be a psychotherapist and specialize in trauma treatment; I knew where I wanted to go. But when I achieved that goal, I had forgotten where I came from, and for years, even tried to keep the fact that I was a retired sergeant separate from my new life. That was a mistake. I am proud to be a former member of the NYPD, and I don’t hide that fact; however, as I realized, wearing the tie is okay. It means that I can keep some of my old ways that are comfortable and make them new. The best part is that I can keep what I want from my experience on the job, and now as a civilian I can let go of what I don’t want to keep.
I understand that my anxiousness and indecision at the beginning moments of that retirement party was a symbol of what I had been going through since retirement – not knowing how to embrace the past while moving confidently forward towards the future. That was holding me back – the identity crisis of yesterday versus today; and I think this happens to other members of the service upon retirement. The important thing for me, as for all of us, is to have a goal for retirement; however, we should also acknowledge the hard work it took for us to reach that milestone of retirement from the police department. Remember what you have accomplished, and acknowledge it with pride. There is a reason they call it “The Job,” because it’s unique to any other profession. There are not many people who have that distinction. We should take pride and build upon that unique foundation a new independence and greater sense of individuality after retirement. You earned that distinction over your many years of service. Wear it with honor and let it drive you forward in all your future endeavors.
These are some ways to help with the retirement transition:
- Set goals: You can still keep a regiment by setting goals for yourself. They could be daily, weekly or long-term; but what’s important, is to take aim and focus your energy and ambition on specific goals!
- Take care of yourself: You gave so much for others; now take care of yourself. Join a gym and gradually start a routine. Get more sleep and work towards eating healthier, now you can!
- Use your time wisely: That “day tour, four to twelve, or midnight tour” is now yours! Take time with your family and enjoy things together (like all the holidays that you couldn’t before). Pursue what interests you and start a new hobby. Work hours that fit into your new life. Take a class (there are lots of adult education classes out there).
- Reflect positively: Reflect on your accomplishments, and retiring from the NYPD is a tremendous one. There are negative aspects to every job, but when you really think about it, there are a lot of positive memories to reflect on as well; so you decide!
- Embrace change: Change is good, although it can be challenging at first; challenge can help us grow. Remember, retirement from the police department is a huge change in your life; acknowledge it, and move towards a positive new life!
Richard Handibode, Jr., LCSW-SEP, graduated from the Training Institute for Mental Health in June 2017 and along with his awesome classmates, has forged on to the fourth year of study. In addition to studying psychoanalysis, he has been certified as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner by the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. Richard graduated from Fordham University with a masters degree in clinical social work and before becoming a psychotherapist, completed a twenty-one year career with the New York City Police Department having retired in the rank of Sergeant Special Assignment.