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A life cut short by addiction; Eliza Harper’s parents are on a quest to make sure their nightmare doesn’t happen to someone else

  • Eliza Harper’s mother, Cara Moser, and sister, Izzy Harper, comfort each other as Dan Harper talks about the life and death of his daughter in South Deerfield Thursday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Family members look over pictures of Eliza Harper at their home in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Harper siblings from left, Eliza, Jackson, Ava, Izzy and Kate, in a family photograph.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Eliza Harper, on right, in photo booth pictures with siblings.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Izzy and Kate Harper look over pictures of their sister, Eliza Harper, in South Deerfield Thursday.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Cara Moser with a photo she took of her daughter, Eliza Harper, in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Dan Harper reflects on a print of his daughter, Eliza Harper, on the mantel in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Dan Harper talks about the life and death of his daughter, Eliza Harper in South Deerfield Thursday. December 6, 2018 STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Eliza Harper’s sister, Kate Harper, mother, Cara Moser, sister, Izzy Harper, and father Dan Harper talk about the life and death of Eliza in South Deerfield.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kate Harper with a print of her sister Eliza.  STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kate Harper reflects on the death of her sister, staring into the burning wood stove. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Kate Harper clasps the hand of her mother Cara Moser as they talk about Eliza Harper in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ



Staff writer
Friday, December 07, 2018

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Twenty-six-year-old Eliza Harper was open, supportive, authentic, beautiful, funny and smart, a nurturer, according to her family. She was also a heroin addict for the past five years.

Recently, her father Daniel Harper brought her mountain biking. He says he remembers asking if anyone wanted to go, and Eliza’s younger siblings Jackson and Ava said “no.”

“They said ‘no’ because they both crashed last time, but Eliza said ‘yes,’” her father recalled. “Even though she took a header, she had a blast. She just went for it, fell and got back on. She was fearless.”

Before she died on Nov. 30 — her 26th birthday — Eliza had been what every parent would want in a daughter. She was a sister to her four siblings, played soccer, competed in track, graduated from Frontier Regional School in 2011 and attended Greenfield Community College, where she got As, they said.

But, for the past five years, she struggled with her addiction, succumbing on Nov. 30, when she died from an overdose. 

Her mother Cara Moser, her father and two of her sisters, Kate and Izzy, now want to help others who struggle with addiction.

“For me, during those five years, it was very cyclical of her using and then recovering,” her father said. “I thought, ‘Oh, she’s going to be fine.’ Then she’d go back into the cycle.”

He said people who knew her would never have thought she had an addiction.​​​​​​ Eliza was clean for about nine months before she died, and her father was optimistic about her recovery.

She was most recently enrolled at Holyoke Community College and worked at Rockridge Retirement Community in Northampton. 

“She was working and going to college,” her father said. “There seemed to be an organic connection where she had purpose and value.”

Her family said Eliza wanted to help people — she had discussed becoming a therapist or radiologist.

“She cared about everyone,” her mother said. “She was a nurturer, always putting others first. She never had a bad thing to say about anybody.”

Yet, Eliza faced the challenge of overcoming addiction.

Helping others

Her family members, who sat down for an interview with the Greenfield Recorder so that others might be helped by their daughter’s story, said they could see how difficult it was to try to recover from an addiction.

Izzy said after visiting Eliza, while she was in a treatment center in California, she understood her sister’s battle better.

“That weekend I told her, ‘You’ve been given the hardest challenge of us all, and if you beat it, it’ll be a miracle,’”  Izzy said.

Her mother added that addiction is one of the hardest struggles and “yet it doesn’t receive as much care and attention as it should.”

“Eliza suffered from depression, anxiety and addiction,” she said. “She was stubborn, as stubborn as they come, and she fought as hard as she could.”

Now, her family has become motivated to raise awareness about the scourge of opioids, and to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction.

“She taught me so much in all of her unusual ways,” Moser said. “We need to try and raise awareness about this.”

Eliza had depression and anxiety, for which she began to self-medicate with marijuana, and that led to other drugs, her family said.

“There was something haunting her that made her want to go numb,” her mother said. “There is still a lot of stigma and shame. These people are continuously struggling; they need continuity of care and support, not ignorance.”

“It’s like a new scarlet letter,” her father said. “It would have been different if she had cancer and she got treatment, then it came back. Addiction is similar in that sense, but society deals with it so differently.”

Izzy added that her sister needed love, even though she wasn’t always easy to live with as an addict. They said in Eliza’s case, she didn’t receive consistent treatment.

“We know there are groups working very hard to try to help, but we would go to one doctor who would say one thing, and another who would say something else,” her father said. “There was no consistency, no baseline. There were many layers of what she was fighting.”

A memorial service for Eliza will be held Sunday at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel, 123 Elm St., Northampton. Doors will open at 1:15 p.m., and the service will start at 1:30 p.m. Dr. Ruth Potee, a Franklin County expert on opioid addiction, will share some of her thoughts at the service. 

Daniel Harper said he first heard about Potee when he went to a “Learn to Cope” meeting where Potee gave a presentation.

“It was so empowering for me to understand,” he said. “Because you ask yourself, ‘Where is my daughter?’ It’s valuable to be able to peel back each layer and know she is still there.”

Izzy said the family invited Potee to speak, because she can talk about addiction in a way that is empathetic.

“It is hard to have empathy sometimes, and from my own experience, there’s a point when you have compassion and understand the person apart from the disease,” Izzy said. “The hope is that Potee will help provide tools that people can use to mourn Eliza, and use in their everyday life.”

Eliza leaves her parents, her sisters, Izzy, Kate and Ava, and her brother Jackson, as well as other family members.

Calling hours will be Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Czelusniak Funeral Home, 173 North St., Northampton.

Donations are suggested to the Opioid Task Force at: www.opioidtaskforce.org