Memorial ‘tree of hope’ sheds light on overdose and addiction



Lisa Lewis, Ryan Vaughan and Mark Vaughan planted a tree in Elms Park last week on Overdose Awareness Day, in memory of Lisa and Mark’s son and Ryan’s brother, Brandon Vaughan, who died of a heroin overdose in 2020. Photo by Lania Rocha

Lisa Lewis, Ryan Vaughan and Mark Vaughan planted a tree in Elms Park last week on Overdose Awareness Day, in memory of Lisa and Mark’s son and Ryan’s brother, Brandon Vaughan, who died of a heroin overdose in 2020. Photo by Lania Rocha

SWARTZ CREEK — Lisa Lewis is living a parent’s worst nightmare, but through the tears and heartbreak and sleepless nights, she wants to offer hope to other families who are facing the same struggles her family faced for years.

With loved ones by her side on Tuesday, Aug. 31 – International Overdose Awareness Day – Lewis planted a white pine tree at Elms Park in memory of her son, Brandon Vaughan, 26, who died April 16, 2020, of a heroin overdose.

“We always had a white pine as a Christmas tree,” Lewis said, recalling happier days. “Its needles are soft, like Brandon’s heart was.”

Lewis said the tree, which is centrally located on the west side of the park, is “a tree of hope” for anyone struggling with addiction, depression or illness, and a symbol of the love Brandon’s family and friends have for him.

“There is always hope,” she said. “A tree may sway in the breeze, but with strong roots, it will stay grounded. We want the tree to represent the love we all had for him. And we don’t want Brandon’s addiction to define him. He was so much more than that.”

Aaron Rubio, president of the United Community Addiction Network (UCAN), said any symbol of hope can “bring strength and courage to anyone who has lost someone.”

“This (tree planting) is a beacon of hope, it’s taking a mess and turning it into a message,” Rubio said. “The message is that the loved ones of those who struggle with addiction … have the strength to carry on. Brandon is no longer here, but Lisa is, and she has to press on.”

Lewis said she is grateful to the Swartz Creek City Council and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for approving the tree planting.

She is planning to have a candlelight vigil at the tree during the holidays for families who are struggling with a family member’s addiction. She will invite those families to put bulbs on the tree to honor their loved ones.