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I first remember my grandmother when she was around 55 years old. She looked the same to me until the day she died, aged 80.

Grandma loved to laugh, to talk on the phone, to see her friends, to eat, to cook, and to take care of her family. She was the woman who had figure skated over the frozen lake with my grandfather. She had been a volunteer on local committees and had done things for the community. Good things. But all of that was long in the past by the time I knew her.

She had decided it was time to look her age. I know that, because I asked her once -- when she was about 70, why she never varied her clothes, her shoes, or even her hair cut.

'Because it doesn't matter any more, dear,' was her reply. 'I'm old now, so that's the way it goes.'

I was a teenager then and though protest was rising in my throat, I said nothing. I respected her too much for futile argument. But I knew there were options. There were a lot of elderly people in the neighbourhood, mostly women, as is the way of things. It was true that many of them were like my grandmother, unchanging and serene. Many, like her, had picked out the hymns for their funerals.

Grandma once even showed me the dress she wanted to be buried in. It was beautiful and I had never seen her wear it. For good reason: it had been purchased for one purpose alone. Grandma had tucked it away years before, but had made sure that everyone -- from family to her hairdresser -- knew about that dress. She wasn't taking chances, and explained that everyone did it.

'What a load of crap!' laughed her sister when I told her the story. 'You think I would buy a great dress and not wear it out on the town?' My great-aunt was a little younger than my grandmother, but different to say the least. She loved to laugh, to dance, to party, and when the mood took, to go gambling. She liked to travel and dyed her hair an improbable colour, then chose lipstick to match. She was always in debt, but never so much that it stopped her, even when she was dying.

'Live until you die, kid,' she snorted, drawing on a fresh pair of eye brows. 'There's no point living if you're already dead!'

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