Grandad had died in February. Although he had had a long, drawn-out illness, this did nothing to soothe the pain at his funeral 5 days later. If anything, the knowledge that his last 19 months had been distressful seemed only to add to the hurt his family suffered.
Perhaps it was because this was the first Christmas without Grandad, or because it was also baby Jonah's first Christmas but, whatever the reason, this year the family celebrated their first Christmas together for eight years.
They all managed to pile into Grandma's house on 23rd December. It was only a small house but Shirley and her husband, David, had rented a self catering cottage just down the road as they were worried that Jonah would keep Grandma up until the small hours of the morning. Ben and his partner were staying with Granny and making sure that she didn't have to do all the cooking and preparation by herself. Mum and Dad were staying at a hotel but spent most of the day at Granny's to ensure she was coping.
She insisted that she should keep busy, that she enjoyed looking after everyone, but when the evening came, her eyes glazed over so that, while she was pretending to be awake, it was clear that she had actually dozed out of the conversation twenty minutes previously.
The following day, Ben and Shirley insisted on helping in the kitchen so Grandma was a little bit more alive that evening, helped by the smallish glass of whisky she had drunk. Tonight, she was lively enough to take part in the conversation, play with baby Jonah by rocking him gently, before taking part in the hilarious game of charades which they had all played so often when they had been little at Christmas time.
Every now and then, her eyes would sweep over the picture above the mantelpiece. In a large but unassuming frame was a photograph of Grandad. His eyes seemed to be smiling but his mouth remained in a perfect straight line. The laughter lines near his eyes showed the jolly character that he was. He was wearing a small flat cap, which had rarely been from his head, and was holding his pipe away from his mouth. That was the one thing that Grandma disliked about that picture, so much so that she wanted to shield Jonah's eyes from it as though, by seeing the pipe in the picture, the baby would want to smoke one himself.
The pipe was not enough to remove the photo altogether, though, and it remained in pride of place throughout the Christmas festivities.
Granny sat down again after a particularly exhausting round of charades and looked around the room. Shirley was now soothing Jonah back to sleep, or trying to, as he had woken up when the fits of laughter had resonated around the room. David was still very much in the game, almost jumping out of his seat when he shouted what he thought was the answer. This was always followed by a glare from his wife as Jonah began crying again.
Ben was just as eager as his brother-in-law in acting out the clues, jumping, laughing, and on one occasion, hopping around the room. His partner, Beryl, could not help but laugh but was a little bit more sedate, perhaps because this was her first Christmas with the family and she was determined to make a good impression.
Mum and Dad left first, determined to get a good night's sleep. Dad's eyes were glistening as he left the small house and he held Granny tightly. Mum laid a hand on his arm gently but did not need to speak any words of comfort. They could speak to each other without actually saying any words.
Granny put on a brave face as Shirley, David and Jonah then left, her eyes glancing once again at the photograph above the fireplace. Ben followed her gaze and went to make a cup of tea, kissing Granny on the cheek as he passed.
Christmas morning came in silently with streaks of sunlight peering through the clouds. The sunlight beamed into the room as Granny came downstairs to put the kettle on. It lit up the Christmas tree without any need for artificial lights and, for a few seconds, she stood watching the glistening tinsel, before she switched on the red and green lights in time for her grandson coming downstairs.
Within the hour, the house was as crowded as it had been last night. Jonah had found that, if he cried louder, more people would crowd around to give him attention. Everyone was relieved when David managed to get him to sleep again.
Presents were handed out in hushed tones and somehow, they managed to share the love and excitement of the day without any boisterousness. Jonah slept, for the most part, soundly.
With everyone crowding around the Christmas tree, lapping up the company that they loved so much, each one in the room felt content for the first time that year. True, it was the first Christmas without Grandad, but it was also the first Christmas with Jonah, the first with Beryl, and the first Christmas for eight years when they had all been together.
As the sun was slipping behind the rooftops in the afternoon, they turned the main lights off and sat around the Christmas tree, whispering softly to each other, and humming quietly their favourite Christmas tunes.
Beside the tall tree stood a short man, the fairy lights twinkling in his eyes and lighting up the laughter lines beside them. He heaved a contented sigh as he raised his familiar pipe up to his mouth. Unseen, he smiled at each person in the room.