“Sparkle” has in the past year embedded itself in the vernacular of the small town of Wayland, Mass.
The joyful connotation of the word – “sparkle” – belies the tragic occasion for its rise to the consciousness of people connected through tragedy and, on Tuesday night, through remembrance.
On July 3, 2012, friends, neighbors and family of Lauren Dunne Astley gathered in the meetinghouse of First Parish Wayland for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the night the 18-year-old was murdered. Astley’s ex-boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita, has been charged with the crime.
And while the tragedy of the events of July 3, 2011, is still fresh in the minds of many, it was more likely the celebration of Astley’s sparkle that brought people together Tuesday night to share fond memories and encouraging words.
“Just to be together lessens the loneliness of our feelings and draws us together in that blessed healing that people provide one for another,” said Rev. Ken Sawyer, reciting part of a reading used a year ago at Astley’s memorial service.
“It will be OK to laugh at a memory of the life that she was and all the light she provided us; it is OK to sob that she is gone; it is OK just to hold her in your thoughts in appreciation,” he continued. “This evening is about remembrance. Bringing back to mind the Lauren we knew and admired and so deeply love still and miss.”
The next hour brought both tears and laughter to the crowd seated in the pews at First Parish as the light faded outside the meetinghouse’s towering windows. Inside the hall, Astley’s mother, Mary Dunne; her father, Malcolm Astley; friends; family; and random acquaintances rose to share memories of the 2011 graduate of Wayland High School.
Throughout the room, a smattering of coral-colored clothing paid homage to Astley’s favorite color and brought to mind the coral-colored bows that decorated signposts and mailboxes throughout Wayland in the weeks following her death.
The stories shared varied widely, but the common themes of kindness, laughter, intelligence, tenacity and that ever-present sparkle wove their way throughout each person’s tale.
Bill Jacques, father of Chloe Jacques, one of Astley’s closest friends, told of the time he took Astley and his daughter, both then 12 years old, to Hawaii. He said he remembered Astley insisting that she wanted to try surfing.
“The wave is coming … she hops up on the surfboard,” Jacques remembered. “It’s unbelievable. She rides the wave all the way in. And I think she is riding a big wave now. All I can say is, ‘Ride that wave, Lauren. Ride that wave.’”
Malcolm Astley said his daughter was able to laugh at her mistakes, and it is a trait that he continues to pursue himself.
“‘… We are intertwined with each other more than we know or imagine,’” Malcolm Astley continued, then reading from a letter written by an uncle of Mary Dunne. “‘And it is at times like now when our deep interconnection can be a grace-filled resource for those of us who hurt so much because they have loved so much.’
“Let us keep the caring going,” Malcolm Astley added. “The better to keep on sparkling each in our own way.”
As the service drew to a close, attendees passed a flame from handheld candle to handheld candle and filed quietly onto the front lawn of First Parish with each candle casting a warm glow on its carrier’s face. From the steps of the building, Sawyer instructed each person to carry the light of the candle with them in whatever way they felt best honored Astley’s memory.
Hannah Blahut, another of Lauren Astley’s four closest friends, said after the service that, even after a year, her healing is “day-to-day or maybe even minute-to-minute.”
“I’ve learned how important it is to rely on your friends because you can’t go it alone,” Blahut said, adding that sometimes “the dots all connect” and she becomes painfully aware of the reality of the loss of her friend. Still, “in a lot of ways we’ve healed, and the community has helped.”
Chloe Jacques agreed that healing has occurred, but she admitted that the anniversary of her friend’s death made her want to be around others on July 3.
“I think about Lauren every single day,” Jacques said. “I wanted to be around everyone who cared about her.
“Lauren was always able to make every situation bearable,” Jacques continued. “I think about her laughing.”
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