Hundreds gather to remember bright spirit who lost her life to addiction

  • Kate Harper, sister of Eliza Harper of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, Emmie, a cousin to the Harpers, and Ellie Parsons, 11, also a cousin, comfort each other Sunday during the memorial service for Eliza Harper at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SARAH CROSBY

  • People spill out of Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton Dec. 9, 2018 following a memorial service for Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Memorial cards featuring a photograph of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, are displayed alongside a guestbook Dec. 9, 2018 at the start of a service for Harper at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Cara Moser, mother of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, left, grieves with her children Izzy Harper, Jackson Harper, Ava Harper and Kate Harper Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service for Eliza at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Izzy Harper, center, talks about her sister Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, during a memorial service for Eliza Dec. 9, 2018 at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Cara Moser, mother of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, center, embraces Dr. Ruth Potee, an expert on opioid addiction based in Franklin County, following Potee's speech Dec. 9, 2018 at a memorial service for Eliza held at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. Eliza's sister Ava Harper, left, and Moser's partner Jeff Shotland, right, look on. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Ellie Parsons, 11, of Florence, a cousin to Eliza Harper, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, her 26th birthday, sings "Happy Birthday" Dec. 9, 2018 during the memorial service at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Childhood photos of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, are displayed Dec. 9, 2018 at the start of a memorial service for Harper at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Jackson Harper, left, Ava Harper and Kate Harper, all siblings of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, grieve Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service for their sister at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • From left, Kate Harper, Ava Harper and Jackson Harper, all siblings of Eliza Harper, light a candle to represent their sister’s spirit during her memorial service Sunday at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SARAH CROSBY

  • Family members of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, including sister Ava Harper, left, sister Kate Harper and mother Cara Moser, grandparents Barry Moser and Kay Stevenson, father Dan Harper and his partner Susan Hadlen, hold each other and grieve Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service for Eliza at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Dr. Ruth Potee, an expert on opioid addiction based in Franklin County, speaks Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton for Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Cara Moser, mother of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, receives a hug from her partner Jeff Shotland Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service for Harper at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. Harper's grandmother Kay Stevenson is shown in the foreground. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Dan Harper, father of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, is comforted by Eliza's grandmother Kay Stevenson, left, and his partner Susan Handlen Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service for his daughter at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Sisters Izzy and Kate Harper lean against each other and weep Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton for their sibling Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Sister Kate Harper, left, mother Cara Moser and grandmother Kay Stevenson grieve Sunday during a memorial service for Eliza Harper at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/SARAH CROSBY

  • Guests filter past childhood photos of Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30, at the start of the memorial service for Harper Dec. 9, 2018 at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Rev. Matilda Cantwell speaks Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton for Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Izzy Harper, center, comforts her cousin Lila Parsons, 9, during a memorial service at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton for Harper's sister Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30. Izzy Harper's fiancée Dane Scantling, left, and brother Jackson Harper, right, look on. —SARAH CROSBY

  • Izzy Harper, Cara Moser, Ava Harper and Kate Harper join hands as they walk to their seats Dec. 9, 2018 during a memorial service at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton for Eliza Harper, 26, of Deerfield, who died from a heroin overdose on Nov. 30. —SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2018 11:42:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Eliza Harper, a young woman “who knew no strangers,” drew hundreds of people to her memorial service at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel on Sunday.

Harper, 26, of Deerfield, died on her birthday this year, Nov. 30, of an accidental overdose.

“Eliza was a spirit so bright,” said the Rev. Matilda Cantwell, who presided over the remembrance.

“Let us take solace in the simple reflection of having known Eliza Harper,” said Barry Moser, her grandfather, before quoting Ecclesiastes.

Still, at the center of the ceremony was an acknowledgment of addiction, the disease that took Harper’s life, and a call to action.

“It’s a serial killer on our streets,” said Dr. Ruth Potee, an expert on opioid addiction who was invited to speak by Harper’s family.

Potee didn’t know Harper personally, but she said that in the days around her Nov. 30 overdose, two of her Franklin County patients also overdosed and died.

“It’s intolerable,” she said.

Potee described recovery as being “like a game of chutes and ladders.

“Relapse defines the disease,” she said.

Eliza was nine months in recovery before she experienced the relapse that would end her life.

“Eliza died holding a long and complex arc that was bending towards hope,” said Cantwell. “We must carry that forward.”

Potee also noted that the recovery phase of addiction is “pockmarked with cravings,” and that the period of time where Harper relapsed is typically when people relapse, and also when they die.

The service had many in tears, most audibly when Harper’s mother Cara Moser gave her remarks.

“She was so proud and excited with how well she was doing,” Moser said. “Eliza did not plan to leave the world in this way, or at this time.”

Indeed, she said her daughter was terrified at the prospect of how her death might affect her family.

“I’ll miss you forever,” was how Moser finished her remarks.

Harper’s older sister, Isabel “Izzy” Harper, also spoke, as did her father, Daniel Harper.

“When people come together, and support each other, and build each other up, it is the most beautiful thing. Life is good, if you choose it to be,” Izzy Harper said, quoting her sister.

Daniel Harper described how when Eliza was a young girl in Cummington, and he was a stay-at-home dad, she wanted chocolate cake for breakfast. When she was told it was an after-dinner food, Harper asked for spaghetti, and after she had her spaghetti and helped clean up, she noted that spaghetti is usually a dinner food.

“She was clever that way,” said Daniel Harper. “And she did have chocolate cake.”

He also noted her identity as an athlete, and how easily she made friends, describing how he once witnessed her have a spontaneous, dedicated conversation with a complete stranger when they were out walking on the streets.

Potee compared the opioid crisis to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, which she also worked in, and said that there needs to be a shift in perspective on addiction similar to the shift in perspective that occurred around AIDS. She cited long-term sober housing, safe injection sites and making test strips for fentanyl available to addicts as things that can be done to help those battling addiction.

Potee would share after the service an estimate that 85 percent of the heroin in Massachusetts is laced with fentanyl, based on urine drug screens of patients going into treatment. She also shared the challenges facing the solutions she advocated for, noting that establishing safe injections sites is illegal under federal law, that no public long-term sober housing is being built in the commonwealth, and that no methadone clinic in western Massachusetts is currently accepting patients.

She said she hoped that her presence at the remembrance would help to shift people’s perception to understand addiction as a disease that deserves evidence-based interventions.

Daniel Harper also said after the ceremony that in the past, when his daughter had tried to get into a program, she was denied because she was not actively using at the time.

“This was a really courageous family,” said Potee, speaking of Harper’s family, saying that they’re a model for how they dealt with their daughter’s disease.

Harper’s young cousin Ellie Parsons sang “Happy Birthday” for Harper, something Cantwell said the family was considering instituting as a tradition on their late daughter’s birthday.

Three of Harper’s siblings lit a chalice to represent her spirit, and at the end of the service, candles were passed out to be lit from the central flame.

“From Eliza’s light, the light will spread throughout the sanctuary,” said Cantwell.

So big was the crowd that only a small fraction of the people gathered had candles. Yet at the conclusion of the service, as people slowly made their way out of the chapel, candles could still be seen burning.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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