Losing loved ones is the hardest thing people have to deal with in life. It is, of course, a time of great sadness but it’s also a time of reflection, of looking back on someone’s past and saying “they had a good life”. In the poignant graphic memoir, Stan and Nan, illustrator Sarah Lippett tells the story of ‘an ordinary couple and the people who loved them’, otherwise known as her grandparents.
A true tale of life, death, love and family, Stan and Nan was set in motion when Lippett’s Nan, Joyce, wrote her a series of letters back in 2011. They detailed the life of her grandfather Stanley Burndred, who died long before Lippett was born but lived on in the artwork and ceramics that decorated his wife’s house. These handwritten letters inspired Lippett to tell her Nan’s story, and thus Stan’s.
She starts the novel as if her Nan is telling the story at the kitchen table over a cup of tea. Nan describes Stan’s humble beginnings, moving onto their courtship and marriage, the arrival of children, and eventually Stan’s premature death. If it sounds like a gloomy tale, it’s not. Lippett paints a moving picture of an average working class couple who married young and quickly, and loved each other unreservedly. Stan’s part ends and the story moves on, as life always does.Next it’s Nan’s story without Stan. It begins on the day of her funeral, as friends and family reflect on Joyce as a mother, a grandmother and a person. It leads up to the final day of her life and the aftermath of her death, revealing a family united by sadness but comforted by the idea that Stan and Nan are together again. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s a notion that obviously brought comfort to Lippett, as it does to many people.
Having recently lost my own grandmother, I felt initially reluctant to open Stan and Nan. It felt too close to my situation; it was too soon to relive losing someone so precious. But I opened the first page and discovered something I hadn’t expected. A story about human connection and hope. Through her simple and heartening illustrations, Lippett was able to perfectly capture what it’s like to say goodbye to an elderly loved one forever – that double edged sword of grief and relief people don’t often talk about.
Some graphic novels are simply stories made up to entertain. Stan and Nan is a loving memoir of togetherness and the perils of growing old, told with typical British humour and warmth, ensuring that despite the sad themes explored in the story, you’ll finish the book with a smile.