"Going through the same thing at the same time as Jan is in some strange, surreal sense, kind of romantic," he said.
Bender was exposed to asbestos while serving on two Navy destroyers from 1959 to 1961, making repairs in the engine room and sleeping near the laundry where chemical-laden clothes were strewn.
A photo of Bender in the Navy's official magazine, "All Hands," shows him handling asbestos on the steam lines.
"All that time I was exposed, for two years solid," he said. "We did more sea time than most sailors who signed up for four years. I wasn't just working around it, I was sleeping with it."
His daughter Vanessa, an unemployed graphic artist living in Brooklyn, N.Y., is making plans to move in with her parents.
"I talk to Frank on the phone every day," said Vanessa, 37. "He has been a great caretaker for my mother."
"He's an incredible guy," she told ABCNews.com. "He does what he does by gut and intuition and some people think he's nuts. He can be very intense to be around sometimes."
Bender had his studio at home and growing up among skulls and bone parts wasn't always easy on Vanessa and her older sister Lisa Brawner, who lives in New Jersey.
"It didn't give me the creeps at all, but it did my sister," said Vanessa Bender.
"It was on the kitchen table when I was a kid and eventually when the tenant moved away, he went upstairs," she said. "Then he bought a studio in the city."
"It was easy to explain to the kids," said Bender. "But it was hard for the kids to explain to their friends, except when it was Halloween and they thought it was really cool."
Now, he thinks about what's ahead for his daughters.
"Vanessa is taking it so hard, losing both her parents," he said. "I am absolutely worried more about my daughter than myself."
Bender, who has spent his life with the dead, retains his hearty sense of humor in the face of his own death. "Sh*t happens," he laughs, crediting his upbeat attitude to his upbringing.
"My parents raised me that way in North Philly," Bender said. "I played on the railroad, hopping freight trains, playing in old factories."
"My whole life has been a constant field trip, a balance of art and science," he said. "I am always learning something through my work."
How does he want to be remembered? he was asked. "By what I have done trying to help other people," he answered.