Submitted by Terri’s daughter, Liz Whitmore

A small-town girl

Terri Pultz

My mother grew up in Bethel with her four sisters and lived there for most of her life. My grandfather was a barber, and she went into business with him in White River Junction. She was a hard worker. She put herself through cosmetology school when I was young, and she became devoted to her hairdressing business. I remember spending time at her work and noticing how warm and welcoming her shop was. She got to know her clients so well that they truly became her friends — she’d attend their weddings, baby showers and funerals. She’d trade haircuts for eggs or maple syrup if someone couldn’t afford to pay her; she would help friends with cancer find the perfect wig.

What Terri was like

My mom was the kindest person I’ve ever met. She was always smiling and could make anyone feel at ease. She was laid-back, funny and empathetic. She always rooted for the underdog.

An annual mom-daughter getaway

My mom didn’t have a lot of money, but every summer she would take me to Lake George. She’d book a tiny, rustic cabin, and we’d share a queen bed. Sometimes we’d bring friends with us, but my most vivid memories are of just the two of us. Our first night, we’d always go out for lobster dinner. Then we’d spend a day at the amusement park, go shopping for school clothes, explore downtown and always leave time for a stop at the arcade (because my mom rocked at pinball!).

How Terri was introduced to opioids

My mom struggled with chronic pain for a long time. She was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It seemed like her doctor wasn’t quite sure how to treat this fairly new disorder, and the default treatment was prescription painkillers. As time went on, her tolerance increased, and she was prescribed more pills at higher doses. Pain coupled with depression seemed to lead her to misuse her own prescriptions and escalated to her using street drugs.

Terri and daughter Liz, age 2, at a family wedding

How I first knew something was wrong

I first started to suspect that there was a problem my freshman year of college. My mom loved Christmas. When I was little, she would often wake up before me, anxiously waiting to see my face light up as we opened gifts together. This Christmas morning, my mom could barely stay awake. She was flat and disinterested as we opened our gifts, even our stockings (which were both of our favorites). She fell asleep while eating breakfast, mid-bite. This was the first of many “little” incidents that made me think something was wrong, but I was scared to bring it up — scared to be wrong and offend her, and scared to be right and push her away.

Our relationship changed

When I was growing up, my mom and I were very close. I always felt supported, and I could talk to her about anything. I consider myself lucky because my mom’s addiction didn’t really manifest itself until I was a young adult. Very slowly, I watched the hardworking, caring, honest mom that I grew up with slip away. I never knew what to expect when I visited her. Would she be asleep on the couch? Would the house be a disaster? Would there be random people there? I found myself taking on the role of her caregiver — calling frequently to check on her and make sure she was alive. I was anxious all the time.

Trying to recover

I would guess that my mom struggled for close to 10 years. Slowly she lost her partner, her business, her home, her car, the trust of her family. In May 2007, she moved to Burlington to be closer to me and to get away from the chaotic life she’d been living, but she was lonely and continued to travel frequently to visit her “friends.”

Eventually, she informed me that she had flushed all of her medication, prescribed and otherwise, and was going to stop cold turkey. Over the next six months, it appeared that she was doing well. She was working in the community garden, taking the bus to appointments, cooking again and inviting me over often. We were able to slowly rebuild some of the relationship we had lost. She reconnected with an old friend who was terminally ill, and she’d visit him in the hospital regularly. Taking care of him seemed to give her a renewed sense of purpose that she needed. As far as I could tell, she was clean.

Terri hugs her daughter, Liz, at Liz’s high school graduation party.

My last moment with my mother

The last time I talked to my mom, she was coloring her hair in preparation for one of her best friend’s funerals. Sadly, she never made it to the funeral. She died from an accidental overdose of prescribed medication. The toxicology report showed no signs of street/non-prescribed drugs, which was simultaneously comforting and painful, because I know that she wasn’t ready to die.

How Terri would want to be remembered

My mom was a helper. She was never afraid of illness and death the way that many of us are. She helped take care of her sisters and stepfather as they became ill. She wanted them to be comfortable, to feel safe and loved as they eventually passed away.

What accomplishment Terri was most proud of

She was most proud of being a mom.

If I could say one thing to my mother now, it would be

I’m so lucky to have had you as my mom. I wish you’d been able to meet my children, because I know you would have also been an amazing grandma.