Finding Words When None Seem Adequate

Recently, I heard Lauren’s Mom talk about teen dating violence.

On July 3, 2011 every parent’s worst nightmare became Mary Dunne’s reality. Her daughter, Lauren Dunne Astley didn’t return home from work, and was later discovered in the Sudbury River having been brutally murdered by her high school boyfriend.

Listening to Mary, I learned about Lauren’s life. I saw beautiful photographs of Lauren and heard a recording of her singing, a description of her captaining her high school’s tennis team, and was told about her energetic friendships. And yes, I also heard about the three-year relationship she had with her boyfriend, Nate.

Those of us who were living in Boston’s western suburbs nearly four years ago can recall the brutal murder, and the coral ribbons representing support and solidarity that festooned trees and traffic signs and fence posts. At the time, so many questions were asked as to how signs of potential violence could have been missed. Those same questions are being asked now.

By speaking about Lauren’s death, Mary keeps Lauren’s memory alive. By speaking, she allows the tragedy of Lauren’s death to be an instrument of change. She’s a teacher, and she now teaches the sad lesson that dating violence is about control. Teens do not have a well of experience from which to draw upon when judging relationships, nor do they have a host of life experiences to compare and contrast them with. So usually they are silent about their dating experiences, perhaps embarrassed, and they often blame themselves or normalize their partner’s abusive behaviors, either believing or justifying them as typical. From my vantage point, even adults who have a whole lot more experience, often do the same thing. It’s frightening and destabilizing to make changes.

We need to enable conversations with our young about the difficultly and pain involved in terminating a relationship- be it through break ups, divorce or death. It’s essential that we teach teens about the intensity and volatility of their emotions, and how a lack of self-awareness and self-control can turn unbridled pain into over-control and violence.

Like many others of you, I listened acutely to the media frenzy surrounding the horror of Lauren’s murder during the summer of 2011. Through it all, I was struck by the fact that Lauren’s divorced parents together negotiated the media spotlight with grace and fortitude. I’m sure they did not always agree about how to proceed, but I was struck by their remarkable ability to cooperate during the investigation and murder trial. During the worst of times, and in the worst of circumstances they acted together in Lauren’s best interests. I felt then and I feel now that their behavior was a tribute to Lauren, and to her legacy.

There is a Talmudic lesson that teaches whosoever destroys a single soul, it is as if he had destroyed a complete world, and whoever preserves a single soul, it is as though he had preserved a complete world.  In Lauren’s memory it is incumbent upon all of us to speak, and to not be silent.  Perhaps you will save one life.  One in four women will report suffering from domestic violence during the course of a lifetime. Allowing others to suffer in silence is not an acceptable response.

Mary speaks bravely in Lauren’s memory, and by doing so she supports an organization called The Second Step, an organization dedicated to helping women transition out of violent relationships and into the next steps in their lives. If you would like to learn more, help or support this organization, please visit thesecondstep.org.

If you would like to learn more about the mission of the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund and how her parents cooperate to further the understanding of teen dating violence, please visit Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund.

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