Across cultures and religions, it’s a point of near universal agreement for parents: There is no fate crueler than losing a child. So when vibrant 18-year-old Lauren Dunne Astley was murdered a month after her graduation from Wayland High School in 2011, her parents could have been forgiven for turning inward in bitterness. Anyone who glimpsed Malcolm Astley and Mary Dunne sitting through this year’s murder trial of Lauren’s ex-boyfriend could sense just how devastated they continue to be by the theft of their only child’s life. Yet when the sentence of life in prison was read in March, Astley walked to the killer’s parents and hugged them. They’d lost a child, too.
Astley and Dunne somehow continue to find the grace to wring good out of tragedy. Dunne, a 57-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher in Brookline, and Astley, a 68-year-old retired school principal and developmental psychologist, had divorced several years before Lauren’s death. But they’ve worked together closely in building the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, through which they educate schools, community groups, and lawmakers to promote healthy relationships among young people and prevent “breakup violence.” Dunne has also shared the subtle signs she wished she had noticed in Lauren’s ex-boyfriend: how difficult it was for her to engage him, how Lauren’s friends didn’t seem to like him, how he repeatedly tried to renegotiate Lauren’s efforts to break things off.
Astley says that despite their crushing sadness, they draw inspiration from the memory of their daughter, a sparkling stage performer and dedicated volunteer who had traveled several times to Louisiana to help Katrina victims. “ ‘We can fix this’ was the way Lauren approached the world,” he says.