Best Friends Forever: Independent Living

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One of the primary tenets of the Quaker philosophy is the concept of vital aging, viewing the process of growing older as an opportunity “for growth and personal satisfaction.” In direct contradiction to what has become a conventional conception in our society, according to this philosophy, “aging is not considered a disease.”

While watching you or your loved one’s hair turn silver and physical abilities decrease, viewing aging as an opportunity for continued growth and development may be difficult; therefore, remaining a part of a supportive community and maintaining life-long friendships is essential for the maintenance of an optimistic outlook. One need not look any further than the Delaware Valley for an idyllic example of this philosophy in practice.

Irene Heacock and Alice Cain’s life-long passion for learning and growing together could inspire even the most difficult of audiences. Their weekly lunches at Chandler Hall, a senior living community in Newton, PA, are replete with happy reminisces of their pasts complimented by anecdotes from their current busy and fulfilling lives. Irene travels from the Logan section of Philadelphia each week to enjoy a guest lunch with her best friend Alice, a resident of Chandler Hall. The two take time out of their busy schedules to enjoy a glass of wine and each other’s company.

After years of dedicated service, both Alice and Irene retired from the Philadelphia Public School System. As early childhood educators, they taught in grades ranging from kindergarten to third. They faced the development of new and challenging curriculum together, advising and coaching each other through the arduous process of creating daily lesson plans. Throughout their careers, they both gave countless hours to their schools and their communities attempting to help their students become educated individuals devoted to the pursuit of life-long learning and inspired citizens actively involved in their communities. Refusing to sacrifice their own educations, the two women utilized their summer breaks to visit a different country every year. They have even completed their goal of visiting every continent at least once.

The same Quaker commitment to social action that led to the development of the continuum of care available at Chandler Hall clearly guided the lives of Irene and Alice. They exemplify the Quaker belief “that there is that of God in everyone.” According to Cecelia Grover, “Despite changes and losses in physical abilities, they were each able to accept each other as just Alice and just Irene, perhaps with a new problem to solve but at the same time still dear friends and confidants.” As they grew older and wiser, they continued to live life to its fullest and to “support each other with challenges, loss of abilities, and the passing of loved ones.” They have always remained vivacious and devout individuals, who looked to the comfort of their friendship during times of hardship.

The Quaker emphasis on equality, on the idea that everyone has “access to the light within” can clearly be seen in both Alice and Irene, but what the outside observer cannot easily see is how they found this light in each other and have continued to see its incandescence for so many years. It is this mutual inspiration that has helped them to see aging as a normal developmental process and will allow them to continue to be best friends forever.

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