This July marks the five year anniversary of Lauren Dunne Astley’s death. Many of you may remember hearing about Lauren’s murder by her ex-boyfriend only a month after they both graduated from Wayland high school. Some of you, like myself, may not have been lucky enough to know Lauren personally. While her death became a national story, Lauren is so much more than how she died. She was born on April Fool’s day in 1993, and she was a lifelong resident of Wayland. She was a performer- she loved to sing and play the French horn. She loved fashion and would put just $5 worth of gas in her car so she could buy a new pair of shoes. She was passionate about helping others. She loved Starbucks. She was full of energy, hope, and she lived her life with laughter and to the fullest. She was Malcolm Astley and Mary Dunne’s only child and she was and is fiercely loved by all who knew her.
I heard someone share recently that grieving is an act of love. I have watched this love in action throughout my time at REACH as I have had the honor to travel around Metrowest Boston with Malcolm and Mary and work with them toward our shared goal of preventing teen dating violence and future tragedies from occurring. They share their experience of unthinkable loss with thousands of adults and teens; they transform their grief into hope and inspiration for others. In five years, a lot has happened. And a lot still remains to be done.
At the time of Lauren’s murder I was living in California, and learned about this tragedy from watching the news 3,000 miles away. Here at REACH, my colleagues had already been working with Wayland High School and the Wayland community for several years; the pain of Lauren’s death reverberated through our halls and our communities. With the support from the MetroWest Health Foundation we were able to expand our work in the high school and have continued to build and deepen our work in Wayland. We provide classroom presentations to freshman and juniors and provide training and technical assistance to faculty and staff. We support student leadership with our involvement in the school’s Mentors in Violence (MVP) club. With the support of the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, we worked closely with the school administration this year to roll out new programming including a screening of the film “Escalation” and the accompanying workshop to the entire senior class. Our work with Wayland High School has become one of our strongest school partnerships and we feel grateful for the relationships we have with students, faculty, and administrators there. While many of the students are too young to have known Lauren personally, this story is still felt throughout the community. Every time I walk across Wayland High School’s campus, I pass by the beautiful mosaic created in Lauren’s memory. On a sunny day, the daisy petals in this mosaic reflect a shine and a sparkle that Lauren embodied.
Healing has no time limit or time line; those who knew and loved Lauren are left with a void that no one can fill. And while we can draw hope from the incredible work happening in Wayland and throughout Massachusetts, we must also remember that Lauren is one of too many lives lost to domestic violence every day. To honor Lauren’s life and legacy, I encourage you to join her parents and all of us at REACH in our efforts to promote healthy relationships and end dating violence. You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference. Simply engaging a young person in a conversation about what they want and don’t want in relationships, modeling healthy boundaries with your family and friends, encouraging dialogue by asking your child open-ended questions and sharing your own experiences can have a big impact. This July, I will be thinking of Lauren, who would have turned 23 in April. And I will remember the words of her mom, Mary, who shared recently, “I still believe that the cycle of love is stronger than the cycle of violence.” Together, I believe we can continue to strengthen the love and the healing in our communities and break the cycles of violence and pain. Together, with small actions and in big numbers, I believe we can reach beyond domestic violence.