Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tribute To Chris Bender

Chris Bender, October 16, 2000
On February 5, 2011, I lost a friend, an ally, a soul mate, named Christopher M. Bender.  Several kind people have wished condolences without knowing him or having any idea of who he was.  I'm hoping this column will offer a glimpse of the man and his meaning in this world. 

Many have to go through school and professional training to work in a healing profession.  Chris simply was a healer.  If you were one of the hundreds of clients he helped at Desert AIDS Project in Palm Springs, or one of the thousands of patrons he served at The Timberline in Seattle, then you know how just one flash of that smile would make your entire day brighter, and gave you hope that tomorrow would be better. 

I had the chance to meet him first as a colleague at DAP.  I had recently moved to Palm Springs from San Francisco, where I had just experienced a long year of caretaking and bereavement for a loved one. Chris grilled me in the lunch room on my first day with questions such as, “Where are you from? Why don’t you have a boyfriend? What do you want to do five years from now? What music do you listen to...,” and immediately we bonded.  Chris was the perfect mellow-relaxed counterpart to my high-strung stressed-out energy at DAP.  He demonstrated to me how to balance productivity with breaths, country music, and staying “below the radar.” 

Then his partner Ricky began suffering dementia and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  Because I had so recently been through a similar experience in San Francisco, we bonded as we shared the struggles, insights, and tears of witnessing a loved one decompensate.  That bond became the cement of a very intense and complicated relationship for the next eleven years.  It was a decade of his physical highs and lows, my move to New York, years where we talked every day, years where we talked not at all.  We traveled together, we bought property together, we watched hundreds of movies, and ate countless pieces of pizza.  We cried a lot. We laughed a lot. Often at the same time. 

During my last conversation with him a few weeks ago, he told me how excited he was to be taking on a new business project in Palm Springs.  His health was good, his energy was strong, and we planned for his first trip to New York this April for my birthday.  On February 4, he was admitted into the hospital with a fever.  On February 5th he died of Pneumocyctis Pneumonia (PCP) peacefully with two loving friends by his side. 

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”  I have always believed in this, and I know Chris did too.  Pain is what we experience when we love other humans, live life fully and authentically, and make the most of every event and opportunity put in our path.  “Suffering” happens when we tell stories about that pain, such as, “This shouldn’t be happening, this is so bad, life is meaningless...” 

Chris Bender experienced great pain in his fifty-three years.  But not one day did he suffer.  He demonstrated how to handle loss with dignity, illness with grace, grief with resilience.  He taught me that we don’t have to make people and things “wrong” when life hurts.  He showed me how to embody healing, compassion, and hope for others.  He may no longer be physically with us, but I think we can all benefit from practicing these lessons. 

I remember one very specific talk we had about an afterlife.  He said, "When I die I want to go to Heaven...as long as I get to visit Hell on Saturday nights.”  If there is a Heaven, then I know he is there now with Ricky, and so many of the friends, family, and pets he loved and lost.  But come this Saturday night, watch out, Hell is going to never be the same again.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, bullying, caretaking fatigue, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, and with couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To schedule a visit, email at Shouldless@gmail.com


Marc said...

I'm so sorry you lost such a close friend, Damon, but I thank you for letting us share your friendship with him through this special tribute.

Jared said...

I worked with Chris at DAP for several years and he is truly a one of a kind human being. He will be missed and this loss is shocking and heavy on my heart.

Jared Meyers

Musclebear Rick said...

I'm saddened about Chris' passing, having known him for a long time. He was such a sweet man, and exuded love, and positive energy. Thanks so much for this wonderful blog about his life.

Rick Vila
Palm Springs

richard said...

You will always be remembered for your quick wit and "absurd" comments as well as compassion here in Seattle. The Timbeline was never the same without you...and so, it went under. We all have you in our hearts and thoughts!
Richard Charles Bredon