Outside Malcolm Astley’s home in Wayland, a swing tied with a coral-colored ribbon hangs from a tree branch, a delicate reminder of the years his daughter Lauren spent playing in the quiet, wooded yard.
Inside are framed photos of her as a newborn, a toddler, a young tennis player. One collage shows her maturing through the years, but then stops, the last two slots blank.
And there are piles of books with titles like “The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty’’ and “Why Do They Kill?’’
Eight months after 18-year-old Lauren Astley was stabbed and strangled, allegedly at the hands of her former boyfriend, her father is struggling for answers. But the longtime educator has a few insights as he prepares to speak at Natick High School next month during a forum on dating violence among teens.
“Love takes a lot of practice,’’ he said. “We don’t help them much with one of the most important things we do.’’
Fundamentally, Astley, 66, is a teacher. A member of the Wayland School Committee and a former Lexington elementary school principal, he is grappling with a way to turn his loss into a broader lesson for parents and teenagers.
Nathaniel Fujita is accused of killing Lauren on July 3 and dumping her body in a marsh off Water Row. The popular couple had broken up a few months earlier and agreed to meet after she left work that day, according to prosecutors.
Fujita pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, one count of assault and battery, and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He is being held without bail awaiting trial, scheduled for Oct. 29.
Remarkably, the compassion Malcolm Astley displayed immediately after his daughter’s violent death does not seem to have waned. In an interview in his home March 13, he was still looking to console others, showing dismay not just for victims of domestic violence but also for the Fujita family.
He expressed concern for Fujita’s younger siblings and said he had been reluctant to give up having conversations with Nathaniel’s mother, which he recently did because of the impending trial.
“I miss that,’’ Astley said. “We’re both being coached not to speak to each other because of the legal process. . . . The times we’ve been in touch have been good.’’
Astley would not discuss the details of his daughter’s death, for fear of interfering with the legal process, but said he wants to see a greater awareness of teen dating violence. His advice to parents is, “Trust but check.’’
As for his cautions to young women, “the most practical one is it’s not a good idea to go alone after a breakup,’’ he said.
Astley said he did not know his daughter was planning to meet with Fujita the night of her death, but from what he has been told, it sounds as if she was looking to console her former boyfriend, who friends had said was struggling after their breakup.
“What a nice thing to try to do,’’ he said of his daughter’s effort.
Lauren had taken a self-defense class, and the instructor approached him after her death, “just utterly bereft that she hadn’t had enough to make it work,’’ he said.
“I don’t even know if she had a second to think,’’ Astley said. “I hope she didn’t, in a way.’’
Astley apologizes for breaking down, as he calls it. The sorrow hits him repeatedly as he talks about his daughter, gripping his whole body, it seems, with powerful sobs that make him catch his breath.
Though his only child was a daughter, Astley plans to talk about raising sons when he visits Natick High at 7 p.m. on April 10. He will discuss the challenges of teaching volatile, emotional teenagers about love and relationships.
“Men are increasingly trained to be tough, cool, dominant, and to be scary,’’ Astley said. “Boys and males, for the most part, are not supposed to have feelings.’’
Teenagers also need help coping with rejection. If society talked more openly about how normal it is to fall in and out of love, maybe they would take some solace from others, he said.
“It’s very volatile,’’ he said of the forces of attraction. “I think we ought to take it on more. . . . You’re falling out of your senses, out of your mind. . . . Most relationships don’t work out the way we quite expect.’’
Wayland High was already talking about healthy relationships in its curriculum, but since Lauren Astley’s death has extended its outreach. Last fall, the school added lessons for ninth-graders and offered advice to parents on how to discuss the subject with their children. Teachers were also required to undergo training on how to spot unhealthy relationships.
Wayland High’s principal, Patrick Tutwiler, praised Astley’s compassionate response.
“It has demonstrated for everybody, whether you knew the two students or not, how to model grace and humanity,’’ Tutwiler said.
The Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund is another outlet for his grief, Astley said. Its mission is to promote educational programs, particularly related to developing healthy teen relationships, the arts, and community service. It has a website at laurendunneastleymemorialfund.org.
The last time Malcolm Astley saw his daughter alive, she talked about her plans to go to Elon University in North Carolina in the fall. She was an accomplished singer and interested in the fashion business.
“She was just her delightful, energetic, focused self, off to life’s current adventures,’’ he said, recalling the lunch he had with her at Mel’s Commonwealth Café in Wayland, just hours before her death.
Writing has been therapeutic for him. He started a list of sweet memories of his daughter, he said, and writes about what he is feeling.
Part of a recent journal entry reads: “I miss you and miss comforting you, my Lauren, and miss planning to teach you yet one more thing to help you be successful and at stormy peace with what you made of life.’’
Astley said he does sometimes feel anger, but tries to put it aside quickly, because it doesn’t help.
“I don’t believe anger is very useful,’’ Astley said. “I see it as a sign, a sign to take heed, a warning sign.’’