Submitted by her daughter, Heather VanderZee

Kristina was a passionate woman

She set her sights on what she wanted, and she would get it. She loved music and singing more than anything. She joined choir after choir so she could share her talent. She loved to sing in church. She had a smile that could light up a room and a laugh that you could hear for miles.

Kristina VanderZee

She always knew she wanted to be a nurse; she just had to help people. She was a registered nurse when she was working. She left the nursing field on disability and was on disability for 15-plus years.

Her biggest accomplishment was having me

She had always wanted to be a mom, and she had lost a child before me. So when I came along, she couldn’t have been happier.

How opioid-use disorder affected her life

She was in her twenties, and she slipped and ruptured a disc in her back at work. After surgery, she was prescribed opioids. Five more ruptured discs and six surgeries later, she was on more pills than I could count and had an actual pump installed inside her body to administer constant medication.

I was really young, but I remember one specific moment. It was the middle of the night, and both my dad and I awoke to a crashing in the kitchen. She had gotten up to make herself a snack, I guess, but she had put an unopened bag of microwave popcorn in a bowl of water on the stove and turned it on.

She took the pills to feel better, but that’s rarely what they did. They may have lessened her physical pain, but they ruined her mind.

My father did the best he could. He traveled a lot for work, but he would always come home to her.

To say we had a tumultuous relationship is an understatement

She was on opioids for so long that I don’t really remember a time when she wasn’t. I remember she was sleepy a lot. She’d always just take her pills and go lie down.

Kristina on the Fourth of July

I know she missed a lot of things. We didn’t take vacations as a family. I really struggled a lot having a mother who was (and, with some therapy, I can say probably had to be) so focused on herself and her needs. I didn’t really have a mother. I had to grow up way too early. I wouldn’t have people over; I always went to other people’s houses. I had a lot of my friends’ moms who would look out for me after school until Dad got home, even though she was home. My grandparents watched me all the time. I spent very little time with her alone.

It was strange and scary, but everyone was trying to protect me. So, honestly, I don’t think I realized until my twenties that my mom had a problem. I don’t even think she knew she had a problem, because she had such chronic pain. I was watching an episode of “Intervention,” and there was a woman hooked on opioids, and before I even knew what was happening, I was just sobbing, because that was exactly how my mom acted and was.

The real problem for her was that she needed them

I have no doubt that she was in real, excruciating pain. There were times when I think she knew, and she would try and “cut back” on what she was taking. When she died, I believe she was trying to cut back on her methadone but was still taking her Vicodin, morphine and oxycodone.

I don’t think she always struggled with it, but I do think that her life revolved around those drugs for 20 years, at least.

The last moment we shared together

I was out at the house on a Saturday, getting some stuff I needed for a project, and she was out of her mind.

Kristina and her daughter, Heather

She was incoherent and kept trying to tell me a story about a rubber duck in a pond — I don’t even know. It was nonsense. I tucked her into bed, told her I loved her, and then went to talk to my dad about her state and how we had to do something. This was too far.

He said that she had a doctor’s appointment that Tuesday, and he would speak to the doctor then and we would set up a meeting to talk about her care. When he came home to get her on Tuesday morning, she was gone.

I just want people to know that she was a fighter. She fought these demons for so long, and it doesn’t help at all when you have a doctor who is just writing you prescription after prescription. She never wanted this.

How Kristina would want to be remembered

She would want to be remembered as someone who loved her family with a passion. I know she loved me and my dad, more than anything.

If I could say anything to Kristina, it would be

I miss you, Mama, so much it breaks my heart every day. I need you, Mom. I need you so much.