When blessings flow from tragedy
Last updated 2/28/2023 at Noon
Jeff Lake is Connor Lake’s father.
He’s had his share of hardships and loss; from learning he’d been adopted, to losing a parent, divorce, and facing a drinking problem. It took time for him to realize blessings can be found in pain. That hard-won wisdom came in the aftermath of feeling swallowed by grief, resentment, and anger. With support from mentors, Lake realized destructive reactions only made matters worse. He learned that a faith-based mindset, giving over his pain to God, made all the difference. He realized he had a choice to either be consumed by negative emotions or embrace the chance to transform adversity into healing himself and others.
Lake didn’t realize how all his past adversity and growth was preparing him for a parent’s worst fear — the loss of his beloved son. Connor Lake died by suicide in November of 2019.
Everyone’s experience is different. This is Jeff Lake’s story. Reach out if you need help. The resources found here are just some of the many options available to provide support to anyone in need. (See list, page 15.)
After Connor disappeared, all of Lake’s mental and spiritual training was put to the ultimate test. He knew right away he had a decision to make. He could access what he’d learned and choose gratitude, or he could fall into despair.
“I’ve been taught to go to gratitude as quickly as possible,” he told The Nugget. “My mentor, John James taught me the quicker you do it, the less pain and suffering you’ll go through.”
James, who passed away August of 2021 in Sisters, founded “The Grief Recovery Method” more than 40 years ago, and was known worldwide for his work and teachings in grief recovery. Lake credits James with guiding him for six years and for his mentorship and friendship.
“When we heard Connor was missing, I gave it to God, with no expectations. That’s key. Call on whatever your faith is and don’t have expectations about the outcome,” he said. “I’m almost 55 and it took me until about 48 to really learn it well. Right away, going into gratitude, I was amazed at the hundreds of people that started helping us search. The local television and radio stations helped us as well.”
Blessings were abundant and beyond Lake’s expectations. A man who Lake mentors went all over Central Oregon with his wife, putting up fliers.
“When we learned Connor had died, they went back and took them all down so I wouldn’t have to see them,” he said. “I’ve never been in a situation that required a search party but all of sudden, I intuitively knew what to do, which in my belief was not under my own power,” said Lake.
Country Coffee Sisters gave free drinks to everyone who was searching, and Sisters Coffee provided gift cards. Vast Church took care of some of the cremation costs. It was the week of Thanksgiving, and all of a sudden, Lake’s family had 50 people at their house, including Lake’s ex-wife and her family who were staying there. Lake attributes the ease with which he worked with everyone as part of another pearl of wisdom James taught him: Whoever forgives first wins.
Thanksgiving has always been Lake’s favorite holiday. Having Connor’s death occur close to Thanksgiving could have changed all that, but he wouldn’t allow it.
“Thanksgiving brings people together.
Even though it was the time of Connor’s death, I went straight to gratitude and remembered the blessing of having 50 people in our living room for Thanksgiving and being together in the midst of having Connor pass away four days prior,” Lake recalled.
“I was grateful to see kids playing and people interacting.
I pulled into Sisters Smokehouse and told them I needed more turkeys and prime rib.
They asked me where my car was and loaded it with a $1,000 worth of turkeys and prime rib, cheeses, and snacks.
Chops generously provided side dishes as well.
Tony at Outlaws Barbershop wouldn’t charge me for a haircut I needed before the service.
Davis Towing came and got Connor’s truck for free, then stored it until I was ready to deal with it.
Van Handel Automotive put in a new window.
Another outfit cleaned the truck and disinfected it and didn’t charge us.
Everywhere I turned I was forced into gratitude because of all these acts of kindness happening.”
Having been reunited with his biological parents three years before, Lake was overwhelmed with gratitude to see his mom and dad pushing a grocery cart down the aisle at Ray’s Food Place.
“I just stood there and thought, ‘God, you always put the people and situations around me to get through whatever I need to get through, even if it’s tough stuff because that’s the reality of life.’ I share with people that, having experienced the greatest pain of my life, I can also experience greater joy today.
That’s only because I’ve removed anger and resentment, the what-ifs, fear, and anxiety out of that situation.
That decision allowed me to be in the present and feel the painful moments.
I used to avoid pain by drinking and medicating myself.
I’ve been sober for over six years and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned and how I’m still supported through AA,” said Lake.
“When I learned Connor wasn’t alive, God put my pastor, Ryan Moffat, right next to me to hug me in that moment of despair, hopelessness, and pain.
He reminded me of the big picture… that I’m only on this earth for a short time and I’m going to see Connor again.
With that I was able to keep my joy, as crazy as that sounds, and keep my gratitude.
That night we were hit with a few feet of snow, and it could have been a month or two before we found him.
I don’t know if other family members could have dealt with that kind of elongated pain.
I’ll never forget coming down off of that mountain, knowing I had to come in and tell everyone he’s not alive after they were full of hope that he might be alive.
God put the perfect person, Joel Stutzman, who was head of fire and police chaplains, there to help me.
He told me, ‘Jeff, we’ve got you.’ I was grateful for that.”
There’s been a lot of young people lost in the Sisters community in the past few years. Lake wants to share what he’s learned and be there for others.
“When someone loses a child, somebody who understands their pain and what they’re going through is very valuable. Having another person who’s lost a child lets you know you’re not alone. It helps to have them listen,” said Lake. “Find some gratitude, big or small.”
In all things, Lake believes you can find nuggets of joy, energy, and forgiveness.