When I learned in April that the body of missing Iowa State University student Jon Lacina had been found in a former dairy building south of the Ames campus, my first thought was that the discovery would bring closure to his family.
Jon had been missing since Jan. 22, when he left a small video game gathering at a friend's house about 9:30 p.m., reportedly in good spirits, and headed for his dorm room about two blocks away. After repeated attempts over the next several days to reach him by telephone, his family in Grinnell, Iowa, realized something was wrong and his father reported him missing.
Finding the body brought an end to months of intensive searching by police and volunteers, as well as months of churning pain for the family.
But, instantly, new questions rushed in: What happened to Jon? How did he get to that somewhat- remote building? Did he go there on his own?
The state medical examiner's office reported in late June that Jon likely died from hypothermia in the unheated building and classified his death as accidental.
Tom Lacina, Jon's father, says evidence suggests his son fell down a few likely snow-covered and dark steps leading to the building's boiler room door, cutting his hands on the glass in the door. Jon then entered the building, but at some point he laid down, drifting into unconsciousness. His wallet, keys and cell phone were found on him, but he was not wearing a jacket. There was no evidence of foul play or of anyone harming him.
ISU Police Chief Jerry Stewart said it appeared Jon walked to the building on his own, but the reason is not known.
The reason is not known.
In the play "I Never Sang for My Father," Robert Anderson writes that "Death ends a life but not a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor's mind toward a resolution it may never find."
This search for a resolution is something Jon's parents, Tom and Alesia, have been grappling with since January.
In a statement issued last week after receipt of the final autopsy report, Tom Lacina states that "there is no way of concluding with certainty why or even when that weekend Jon ended up at the dairy pavilion."
By way of background, he said that no drugs were present in Jon's system other than alcohol, which was calculated at the time of death at an average below the legal limit.
"Jon suffered from occasional migraines. Rarely, they could disorient him and blur his vision," he added.
n About 11 p.m. that night, Jon made a call to a friend that did not go through. The call might not even have been intentional; he might have hit a pre-programmed key on his cell phone accidentally. In any case, the Lacinas find it difficult to assign much significance to the attempt.
n The distance to the dairy pavilion is an easy one-mile walk from Jon's dorm, mostly on sidewalks.
n Jon had lived in a dorm near the pavilion the previous school year, so he knew the general area very well. And he liked to go on walks, even at night.
n All of Jon's coats appear to have been accounted for, so he apparently wasn't wearing one that evening. "Jon would often wear the minimum amount of clothing needed for the temperature outside," his dad said.
The family has considered various scenarios.
"He could have become confused and lost because of alcohol or a migraine or both, or he could have just gone on a random walk for pleasure, headed behind the farm building to its hidden, unlit side for any one of a variety of reasons and experienced the accidental fall and resulting complications," Lacina said.
"We'll never know for certain."
And that is the rub. Living with uncertainty. Wishing their son had just gone to his dorm. Why did he wander?
The Lacinas are inspirational in that way, though. Incredibly so.
First, they suggest that people everywhere take lessons from this. "Buddy-up, drink in moderation if you drink, carry a well-charged cell phone with good batteries and know your physical limitations.
"After taking reasonable precautions, however, we maintain living life fully is best," Tom Lacina said.
"Life is precarious, and living every day fully is not just foolish optimism; it is a recognition all of us share the same end no matter what, and not living fully is at best laziness, or fear, or, at worst, a denial and a form of disrespect to those, older and younger, who have worked to enrich our lives.
"These may seem like strong words," he continues.
"They are the words of grieving parents trying to lean into the pain so as to continue moving forward day to day. We believe they express a truth about what it means to truly live, and certainly how we should live to honor our son, Jon.
"We intend to focus our energy on nurturing our fond memories of him and living so as to show respect for how Jon enriched our lives."
I have profound respect for how the Lacinas have chosen to deal with this awful event that should never happen to anyone.
And my heart goes out to them for the loss of their son, who began attending Iowa State at the same time as our son. They were roommates their first semester.