Personalized Christmas trees remember, honor lives lost to addiction and suicide

It is a touching holiday tribute marked by grief and sadness inside a north metro drug treatment center – a trio of brightly decorated Christmas trees filled with personalized ornaments of those lost to overdose and suicide.

The trees are the idea of a heartbroken woman, hoping to raise awareness about the deadly addiction crisis she has experienced first-hand.

"You know, there's too many lives that we are losing. And I feel like people need to come together more to do what they can to help stop it," explained Anne Emerson.

Emerson was searching for a way to memorialize her fiancée Ryan who passed away after a fatal overdose several years ago, in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

She painted his name on a bright purple ornament to keep him close to her heart, and figured others grieving this time of year might want to do something similar.

Emerson’s idea was two-fold, to honor those lost to addiction and to bring awareness, particularly to the deadly fentanyl crisis sweeping through the community, with purple-themed Christmas trees. Purple is generally considered the official color of the addiction recovery movement.

She asked if they could go up in the Valhalla Place drug treatment center near her home in Brooklyn Park in an effort to engage the patients coming in for treatment and possibly impact their recovery efforts. Blank ornamental bulbs are left on a nearby table for those wanting to add a name to the Christmastime tribute.

What began as a single tree in year one has sadly exploded into three this year, all three filled with the names of loved ones written or painted on color coded ornaments, who are not here for the holidays.

Purple and silver for those lost to drug overdose. And the color teal was recently added for deaths by suicide.

"It's very sad to see that the numbers keep going up," Emerson told FOX 9’s Paul Blume. "But I also feel like it is a sign for people to take it seriously, that this is not something to joke around with."

Valhalla’s program director Corey Thompson said the trees are greatly appreciated by staff and patients alike. He reports, many often gather around the display in tears, either reminiscing or adding names to the personalized ornaments. Tragically, it seems all three trees are nearly filled, and more might need to be added in the years to come.

Commenting about addiction recovery efforts and community awareness of the situation, Thompson said, "I would like to think we are making progress, but I think there's more we can do. Definitely a lot more."