When 69-year-old Silvia Marie Clark Linville of Grants Pass found out two weeks ago that she had terminal, fast-spreading cancer, she got a gift from an unexpected source.
As he has done for many dying people, Gary Halliburton gave her an hour to talk over the fun, painful and sometimes glorious parts of her life, which he recorded on high-definition digital video, with many copies on DVD for her children and their eventual children, who — not yet being born — will have no memories of their grandmother, but will get to "meet" her through this oral history.
Halliburton works with Asante's Hospice program, offering video oral histories at no cost to families who, in their grief, often don't think of recording it for posterity.
For Linville, a 1958 graduate of Eagle Point High School, the hour of reminiscing brought back many a smile and lots of stories — tales of camping in the Wallowas, salmon fishing in Crescent City and some family legends going back to great-great-grandparents watching Indians burn the cabins of settlers here.
When asked what were the best times, the answer came fast.
"Having my kids," said Linville. "You can't make a husband your life but you can with your kids. I enjoyed my life. I've got two more months till I'm 70 and I hope I make it, so I can see my grandson graduate."
Halliburton, a Renaissance man who is a registered nurse, rock music keyboardist, woodworker, computer builder, photographer and history buff, puts an enormous amount of attention and time into the oral histories, setting up his camera in the living room and asking questions that invite the dying person to wander back through the canyons of time.
"What's important now?" he asks.
"I believe in quality of life," Linville replies. "I see people so sick, like living vegetables. I would rather live with quality, even if it's only five days. That's important — and my family. I want to say to them, 'be good kids and enjoy your life,' and I know they will."
After he shoots the video, Halliburton invests up to 70 hours editing it together, often with old family photographs and comments from family members, as well as music he's composed (to avoid copyright issues). It's a lot of work. Why does he do it, and do it for free, when some charge tens of thousands of dollars?
"I've worked as an R.N. since the '70s, and people would tell me the most incredible stories," he says. "I've always been interested in death and dying and I'm a history buff. I've always had recording equipment (for music), and eight or nine years ago, I asked the nurses if anyone wanted their oral history. I did one session. It was the most amazingly beautiful video, so I got a HD (high definition) camera."
With her son Terry, husband Darrille and granddaughter Jackie present, Silvia wandered through her past, telling of buying candy at the Camp White (now White City) store during World War II training days, how her grandmother had beautiful white hair that she washed in rainwater — and her lonely days as a quiet kid in high school.
Her dad recovered from being given to an orphanage by his father (a Jacksonville minister) and they were a close family who worked hard on their Eagle Point farm. It was fun, she said, learning to do homework and watch TV when that miraculous new technology came in.
"Dad was a hard man and a sweet man. I was raised rough, as they called it, so I could survive what we had to go through," she said, adding that she was taught, "If you're going to do it, do it right, because if you have to do it a second time, it won't be as good."
As Halliburton put away his video gear, the family said they'd heard a lot they didn't know. Kala, wife of Terry Linville, said, "That was neat. It's all strung together now, with all the detail."
As Halliburton began shooting more and more "life review" videos, he said he saw that a dying person's children and grandchildren would have little idea about many stories that made the family what it was.
"I do this for love of doing it and for the satisfaction of knowing it will pass from generation to generation."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.