in•de•pend•ence – [in-di-pen-duh ns] noun

  1. Also, independency. The state or quality of being independent.
  2. Freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.
  3. Archaic. a competency.

That’s what Webster’s Dictionary says it is. But the real question is what it means to you, your loved ones, your neighbors, your community and so on. Our country was built on the idea of freedom and independence, as was Alaska.

I have lived in Alaska for 45 years (since I was 9 years old). When I think about what independence means to me, my thoughts go back into my own history, then to the history of my friends, as well as those who founded this great state and the city of Anchorage. It is difficult not to get nostalgic, probably because not all of my family who traveled north to Alaska are still with us, including my father—along with so many other great men and women who came before us.

For my dad, so many others and me, independence was defined by the action of living each day with a pioneering spirit—an attitude that seems unique to Alaska. Independence defines us and adds to our character. In the early days of Alaska, that spirit of independence and freedom fostered a fraternal organization called the Pioneers of Alaska that was formed from the need to help each other survive. The Pioneers of Alaska was founded on Valentine’s Day 1907 in Nome and provides food, medical care, legal assistance, recreational opportunities and social interaction vital for life in this rugged frontier. The Anchorage chapter known as Igloo 15 began on January 5, 1917, just two years after the city’s founding. The spirit lives on, today.

Independence is about freedom from control. It’s about choosing and defining our quality of life. As we get older however, it becomes more difficult to maintain control of our independence and we need help. But, I don’t think having help should redefine our character or take away from our pioneering spirit. If anything, it should allow us to soar farther. That’s what I love about the mission of the Pioneers of Alaska.

 I frequently make presentations on senior-related topics. I always ask if anyone in the room is planning on giving up their independence and going into a nursing home in their elder years. I have yet to see one person raise their hand. Instead, arms remain folded and faces tell me that my audience will continue to soar. It’s comical and affirming.

Keeping control of our independence requires us to make proactive choices both for the long term and within each moment. Examples of long-term planning include home modifications or buying a home that supports a person who has limited mobility or other handicaps and/or purchasing long-term care insurance to help ensure you don’t deplete retirement funds to pay for care. Examples of moment-to -moment choices include choosing to use a walker instead of a cane or having a family member, friend or caregiver standby or assist when you shower, if your balance becomes compromised. It’s also knowing when it is time to stop driving for your safety and that of others.

There is a whole network of support around each of us; we only need to tap into it. It begins with knowing when to ask for help, recognizing that asking for help doesn’t mean we are giving up our independence and then accepting that help, so that we can continue to live the life that defines us as individuals, and Alaskans.

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