I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I received the call from Bill Sherman, my former father-in-law, telling me that Dr. Cable had passed. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was on the beach in Fenwick Island, Delaware, peacefully sitting in my chair in the sand and staring at the ocean on a beautiful, sunny late afternoon on the last day of July, 2010.
As it does for so many people, watching and hearing the waves gently crashing on the shore has always filled me with an indescribable calm—as it is my favorite pastime, and place, in the world. The irony here was that the human personification of “the calming powers of the ocean” was none other than Dr. Dana G. Cable.
I first heard Dr. Cable’s name proclaimed by my mother back in the early 1980s. She had gone back to college to get her Master’s degree from Hood College. Dr. Cable was a psychology professor at the local institution and served as my mom’s instructor for a unique class offering centering on thanatology, the study of dying, death and bereavement. I recall how very excited she got for each week’s class, and would usually come home beaming and giddy—something that seemed very odd to myself and the rest of my family, given the serious content matter. She tried explaining the class to me then, but I was in high school at the time, and death and dying was the furthest thing on my teenage mind.
Cable, a leading thanatologist over his storied career, originally came to Hood in 1972. He taught "Psychology of Death and Dying," one of the first classes in the field. Dr. Cable even conducted class field trips that involved walking treks within Mount Olivet Cemetery. Newspaper stories about him, and the innovative psychology classes he was designing, were picked up by the Associated Press and published in newspapers throughout the country.
Thanks to Dr. Cable and Dr. Terry Martin, Hood College expanded thanatology from a concentration under the master's program in human sciences to a certificate program. The initial vision and hard work of these gentlemen has earned Hood College the recognition of having one of the most heralded programs of its kind in the country today.
A Mother's Story
Exactly two years ago, my mother and I broached the subject of Dr. Cable, and the class after my mom found that she, herself, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She had even gone to the trouble of digging her old class resource/text-book out of storage in order to re-read. It was entitled Death & Dying: The Universal Experiences and had been authored by Dr. Cable in 1983, the same year my mother took her first course from him at Hood.
Here are some poignant passages from the work mentioned above. These were specific points my mother had underlined in pencil within her copy used in conjunction with the class:
*”All of us will face the deaths of loved ones. It is time that we all learned to open the door to death and to look death in the face.” (pg5)
*”It is important to differentiate between what we call “fear of death” and what might be called “fear of dying.” When we speak of death, we are talking about a state of being. We are alive now. Someday we will no longer be alive; we will be dead. On the other hand, dying implies a process, a way of getting from that state of life to the state of death.”(pg 7)
*”For most individuals, the fear of death becomes greatest during the middle years of life. This is the time when we see our children able to function on their own. We are also at the peak of our profession and earnings, and everything seems to be going the way we want it to go.” (pg 12)
*”What then can we do in caring for the dying patient? There is no simple formula. However, whether we are nurses, physicians, janitors, clergy or significant family members of the dying patient, there are things we can do to make things easier both for them and for ourselves as well. First and foremost would be listening.”(pg 62)
*”Regardless of whether we choose the traditional funeral or a memorial service, the use of rituals is an important part of death. Rituals give us an opportunity to experience a rite of passage, a chance to say a final good-bye.” (pg 69)
*”When people do not do their “grief work” following a death, we may well find a serious mental, social, and emotional problem. The expression “grief work” is a very appropriate one. Overcoming a death, learning to go on without the love object, requires work. It is not something that just happens. In order to understand what the grief process is like, our starting point needs to be with some basic definitions.”(pg 80)
*”Finally, grief may be affected by our perception of the unfinished business that remains, unfinished business in the sense of failure to close relationships with the dead person.” (pg 87)
*”In most individuals we will see the intense expression of grief last for periods of weeks to months or even a year. Experience tells us that for most people the grief process will take a period of approximately two years, but indeed, it will vary from one person to another.” (pg 92)
My mom told me that Dr. Cable and the Hood class had helped her in so many ways, especially in coming to grips with the death of her father (the previous decade) and finally achieving adequate closure. Her dad had passed somewhat suddenly in 1975 after a short illness.
I certainly knew how tight of a connection bond my mother had with her father. She was the youngest of three and the “apple of his eye.” Just one week prior, I had accompanied my mom to Wilmington, Delaware to visit my grandfather in the hospital. He was upbeat and apparently making a positive recovery. Mom had to return back home to work the weekdays at her job at a hospital in Montgomery County, but planned to come back the following weekend to see him.
I often flashback to the following Friday, a day in which I woke up to find both of my parents staying home from work, and keeping my brothers and I out of school. My grandfather had died overnight, news given to me by my Dad. He told us that our mother was very, very sad. I was only eight, and my brothers were five and two, so we didn’t really get the magnitude of what she was experiencing. It was, however, the first major death of a relative I would experience and remember.
I won’t forget that day, seeing her more distraught than any other time in life. Actually, it makes me sad even thinking about it now. She regretted not being there in Wilmington by her father's side when he died as we had planned to head back to Delaware that Friday evening after her return from work. It was my first funeral, and a surreal experience seeing so much sadness from relatives. To add to the family’s loss, my grandfather was previously scheduled to come to Frederick to help preside over my First Communion the same weekend, as he was a Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church.
I would see my father go through the same thing a decade later with the loss of his mother. I recall the support my mom was able to give him however, and a big part of that was by sharing the lessons and wisdom gleaned by Dr. Cable.
When my mom and I talked two summers ago, she remarked that Dana Cable’s class was one of the most enlightening and rewarding educational experiences of her life. This was quite a compliment from someone who had an innate love for learning. She knew that he had made a difference in her life, just as he likewise did for countless others be them students, private practice clients and professional colleagues. Interestingly, Dr. Cable would one day do the same for me, as I would find myself in a situation I never expected to be in.
My mother passed in February, 2019 of respiratory scleroderma/interstitial lung disease. Once again, I know the impact that Dr. Cable had on her in the classroom also helped her battle her terminal disease, at least mentally.
To chronicle the rich life of this man who specialized in the study of death, I will simply submit his obituary and also provide a link to a fine story written about him and published at the time of his death in the Frederick News-Post.
Dr. Dana Gerard Cable, 66, of Frederick, died Friday, July 30, 2010, at Frederick Memorial Hospital. He was the loving husband for 33 years of Sylvia K. Cable.
Born Aug. 27, 1943, in Sewickley, Pa., he was the son of Jean Clover Cable of Brookeville, Pa., and the late Boyd Cable.
Dr. Dana G. Cable earned his B.A. degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College and his Ph.D. from the University of West Virginia. He was a professor of psychology and thanatology at Hood College. A leader in the field of gerontology (the study of aging) and a pioneer in thanatology (the study of dying, death and bereavement), Dr. Cable was director of both the thanatology and human science graduate programs at Hood. He was a licensed psychologist and certified grief counselor.
Dr. Cable was on the editorial boards of The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, and Omega: Journal of Death and Dying. He authored the book "Death: The Universal Experience." He authored and co-authored (along with Dr. Terry Martin) numerous chapters in books as well as professional papers. He and Dr. Martin were invited co-presenters at international conferences in Canada, Greece and Scotland.
Dr. Cable was on a team that developed a 10-part video course on death and dying for public television and distance learning. He served on the Board of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and earned that organization's Clinical Practice Award.
Dr. Cable served as president of Phi Kappa Phi international honor society and was chairman of the board of Hospice of Frederick County. He lectured widely in his chosen fields, most recently as the invited speaker of the Carhart-Rollandini Thanatology Lecture Series at Hood, when he presented his well-founded theory of grief. He was a gifted teacher and mentor to hundreds of students spanning his nearly 40 year teaching career.
Dr. Cable served as an International Trustee for Kiwanis International. He served as a governor for Capital District Kiwanis. He was a member of Kiwanis of Frederick. His favorite past-time was going to Las Vegas and taking cruises in January.
Surviving in addition to his wife and mother are two children, David Cable and wife, Carolyn, of Yellow Springs and Jenny Morgan and companion, Patrick Ellis, of Middletown; five grandchildren, Jared Cable, Samantha Cable, Taylor Cable, Ryan Morgan and Sarah Morgan; one sister, Penny Saxton and husband, Lew, of Pennsylvania; and nieces and nephews, Tina Chillcott, Bill Ramey, Daniel Cable, Waylon Boyer and Angie Lahrman. He will remembered by his lifelong friend and associate, Dr. Terry Martin. He is also survived by several great-nieces and great-nephews.
He was preceded in death by his grandson, Alex Nathaniel Cable; his sister, Christine Cable; and infant brother, Lanny Cable.
The aforementioned Lanny Lee Cable died in the local Brookville Hospital (Pennsylvania) at just 12 days of age. The baby sibling of Dana died as a result of being born premature. I’d bet this traumatic incident had a profound effect on Dana’s family, particularly his mother. It likely affected or perhaps gave inspiration to Dana to enter the field of studying death and grief.
While conducting my research for this story, I found another early newspaper article that showed Dana Cable was be destined as a writer from a very young age.
Here is a link to the FNP story on Dr. Cable from August 3rd, 2010:
My Personal Remembrance (For what it’s worth)
The reason that Dana Cable and I intersected in life was certainly due to a death, as you would naturally think. However, it was not just any death-- it was that of a steady girlfriend of mine.
Back in the summer of 2009, I was recently divorced and inadvertently happened upon the beginning of a magical, new relationship with a charming woman living in Golden, Colorado. To say I experienced serendipity, is an understatement, as I met Alisha by total accident while I was attending a tourism-based work conference in Denver. I had flown out a few days early in an effort to do some sightseeing before the conference. I headed to Golden to tour the legendary Coors Brewery and visit the Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite which overlooks the sleepy, little Colorado town from atop Lookout Mountain.
I won’t bore you with the details of how we met on a restaurant patio overlooking Clear Creek, but we hit it off wonderfully. Neither of us were looking for somebody, but we found something very special that night—each other.
Like me, she was recently divorced and had a four year-old son, while my son Eddie was three at the time. A long-distance relationship would ensue and grew throughout that fall into winter with several trips made between Colorado and Maryland to spend time with one another.
She was truly amazing and the relationship grew fast. After an incredible Thanksgiving, in which I introduced her to my family, she would also spend Christmas week with us here in Frederick with her son. It was reminiscent of a movie on the Hallmark Channel --a reference to bring "cable" television into the story.
Two days after a joyous Christmas Day, Eddie and I drove Alisha to BWI Airport and put her (and her son) on a plane home on December 27th (2009). Future plans had been made for me to fly out to Colorado three weeks later for her birthday. I had no idea that I would never see her again. Three days later, on December 30th, 2009, she was murdered in her home in the middle of the night. The alleged suspect was her estranged ex-husband who had broke into the house.
Riddled with shock and grief, I would be called on to assist investigators in the ex-husband's arrest. Instead of going to Colorado for Alisha’s birthday, I would travel to Colorado to deliver a eulogy at a memorial service for her at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I also met, and spent ample time, with investigator Kate Battan of Colorado’s Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. A decade earlier, Det. Battan was the head investigator of the Columbine High School shooting tragedy.
Months later, I returned to Colorado to serve as a principal witness in a very unpleasant child custody case for Alisha's son who had lost both parents, one to death, and the other to a detention facility. The trial was held in a conservative county outside of Denver and somehow the court decided to place her son with the murderer’s family. It truly baffled the mind, as the fix was in from the start with her ex-husband's family.
Another case of greater importance was on the horizon. The State of Colorado needed me to be mentally strong and collected in order to testify in a murder case which was scheduled for fall of 2010. I was a key witness for he prosecution and was directed to see a grief counselor in advance of the trial, something the State of Colorado would fully embrace and fund on my behalf. I reached out to the earlier mentioned Bill Sherman, a psychologist himself, for guidance. He told me that he knew just the person for me to go see—Dr. Dana Cable. Apparently, the good doctor had stopped taking on new clients, but would make an exception for me based on the circumstances. He was also a friend of Bill’s so I really lucked out.
I started seeing Dr. Cable in April 2010 and we met weekly for the next three months. I already had a comfort level with him and had the unique opportunity to begin our therapy by telling him that my Mom loved taking his class at Hood, and what it meant to her. In our sessions over the next three months, I was able to describe in detail the relationship I had built with Alisha, culminating with her death and the grief I had been feeling. I learned so very much from him, and more importantly, about myself during those weekly visits.
Our last session in late June ended with Dr. Cable telling me that he thought I was highly resilient, mentally strong, in a very good place and definitely ready for the trial, and moving forward in other aspects of life. He told me that perhaps my whole purpose in meeting Alisha was to provide her final months with happiness and bliss. He also said that I had channeled grief, emotion and energy into performing a mission in assisting the investigators and most of all Alisha’s family, of whom I would have the pleasure of meeting for the first time only in conjunction with her funeral services in Cincinnati, Ohio a week after her death and on my birthday of all days.
I would miss my next weekly appointment with Dr. Cable thanks to a planned vacation to the beach at the end of the month. We had set up my next session for Tuesday, July 6th (2010). I remember going to his home-based office near Bartonsville on that hot, July day. I was even ten minutes early and sat in the car before approaching his office door. To my surprise, no one answered after repeated knocks and ringing of the doorbell. I had waited nearly five minutes before I decided to try his home front door, as his office was connected to the house.
Eventually his wife, Sylvia, would answer the door. She apologized profusely and told me that Dr. Cable should have notified me as he had postponed all appointments for the week. She said that he was dealing with some health issues. I was perplexed and disappointed, but simply went back to work. When I returned home that night, I dug through the stack of mail from the previous week and found a letter from Dr. Cable sent out on July 1st.
As you can piece together now, I would never see Dr. Cable again. He died a few weeks later of septic shock relating to surgery undertaken to address colon cancer. When I got the news of his death that day in late July while on the beach, I felt two things. My first reaction was shock and surprise, but surprisingly without any extreme sadness as he, himself, wouldn’t want that from me. Instead, I experienced a renewed reassurance that his lessons of life, and death, (along with the tranquility and strength gained from my current state in watching the ocean) would be there for me in the upcoming court trial, and the continual “trials of life” ahead. My second “deep thought,” was saying to myself: “Hey, wait a minute, am I living a Seinfeld episode? How should you feel when your grief counselor dies? And, more so, who are you supposed to talk to about it?”
Over a week later, on August 8th, I attended Dana Cable’s memorial service at a packed-full Coffman Chapel on the Hood College campus. I was simply in awe of the eulogies given that day, and various stories of the people he had touched through his life’s work on death. The gentleman was thoroughly accomplished and keeper of "A Wonderful Life."
Looking back personally, what strikes me is just how poignant Dr. Cable’s final words to me really were. He complimented me on my resilience, especially how I had processed the deaths of my two life’s heroes—my father and paternal grandmother earlier in life. He said this gave me the proper foundation for working to resolve Alisha’s death, albeit much more disturbing and tragic. He gave me his green light and approval to move forward, or at least the confidence and assurance. I wasn’t just good, I was actually “Cable-ready,” to use a satirical play on words involving the well-known designation which indicates that a TV set or other television-receiving device (such as a VCR or DVR) is capable of receiving cable TV without a set-top box.
As a footnote, the murder trial went as scheduled in the fall of 2010, and I performed my part in giving my testimony with honesty, love and conviction. And speaking of conviction, the convict in this case, Alisha’s ex-husband, was sentenced to life imprisonment in a federal prison for his horrendous crime.
Thank you Dr. Cable. Not only did you help me then, but you somehow probably had a hand in me working for a cemetery as well—a place predicated on death and dying. It certainly never crossed my mind prior to late 2015 at which time I was offered the job here..."Good Grief!"
Dana G. Cable is entombed within a burial crypt within the Potomac Building in Mount Olivet Cemetery’s mausoleum complex. His mortal remains are located in crypt 29/Row B. (In picture above, the Cable crypt space is the first on the left, second row up from floor.)