Summary of the Pit Dweller Series
All of us have walked in dark places at one time or another. When a life-altering tragedy occurs, it’s like a sinkhole suddenly collapses the sunny sidewalk beneath us. Dropping into a black pit filled with despair, fear and grief, we become reluctant pit dwellers.
In December 2012, my brother Chris attempted suicide; he died five days later. The Pit Dweller Series is my testimony of God’s goodness during that dark time.
About my Family
My older brother Chris and I grew up in a middle class family in a suburb of Detroit. There was just the four of us. Our dad worked as a chemical engineer and our mom stayed home and raised us. Both our parents enjoyed having kids and actively encouraged us in our gifts. Like most Americans, our family had its dysfunction, but the cracks didn’t become obvious to me until I was a teenager.
Growing up, our family always attended a local Episcopal church. But as we entered adolescence, Chris and I each decided that we didn’t believe in God and proclaimed we “didn’t need a religious crutch.” Soon my brother and I only came to church at Christmas and Easter. Dad had had a falling out with the Episcopal Church earlier and stopped going before his kids did.
In junior high, Chris tested genius level in mathematics. Though socially awkward in high school, he had his own group of guys to hang out with. They were like him; math geniuses and chess players who enjoyed having intellectual arguments.
Before college, Chris and I saw the world in much same way. He’d always been my friend and playmate and I could count on him to look out for me. But everything would soon change.
In his senior year in high school, one of the writers for the student paper wrote,
“Chris Hall has mathematically proven he does not exist and has not been seen since.”
All his family and friends cracked up, because that quote captured my brother’s essential nature perfectly.
My Brother’s Dream
Chris attended Michigan State University and I followed 3 years later. His ambition? To become a college mathematics professor. Struggling in my own freshman math class at State, I discovered my brother was quite a good tutor.
University life suited Chris. He enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of delving deeper into science and philosophy and loved debating new ideas. After attaining his bachelor’s degree he went straight into a PhD mathematics program at the University of Maryland, skipping the step of first getting a Master’s degree.
Chris’ greatest challenge was to develop and prove an original mathematical theorem. That’s how he would earn his PhD. It would have to stand up to rigorous mathematical review and be a totally original piece of work. Unfortunately, he got stuck; my brother couldn’t mathematically prove his thesis. Finally after several frustrating semesters, he gave up and moved back home. After several VA hospital stays, Dad had died of heart failure a few years earlier. Mom was living by herself.
Post College Life
For Chris, becoming a college professor was plan A and he never developed a plan B. After college he worked off and on, but life defeated him. He’d been unable to fulfill his purpose and became cut off from the university atmosphere he enjoyed so much. In the meantime, I’d become a born-again Christian my sophomore year at MSU and our formerly close relationship evaporated.
I never stopped missing him.
Over the years, as she grew older, Chris gradually became Mom’s caregiver. He learned to stretch a buck like a rubber band and began paying all the bills. After Mom accidentally burned up a pan, he took over the cooking. When she became unsteady, he started going downstairs into the basement to do the laundry.
Though he struggled with anger and depression, Chris faithfully looked after our aging mother as she went thru the occasional medical emergency and endured long-term ill health. I sent some money home every month, but Chris did all the heavy lifting.
He stayed independent and stubborn, determined to not ask for help from anyone–including me.
I worried about Chris, but I never worried about Mom. I knew I could trust him to take good care of her.
In the last 3 or 4 years of her life, my atheist brother took Mom to St.Thomas Episcopal Church every Sunday and then sat in the foyer, in case she needed him. People in our old church loved and admired him because of that. When she died of complications from a stroke on March 28, 2012, various people were quick to offer Chris help in moving forward and getting on his feet.
He never took any of the people up on their offer.
Chris needed to find a job quickly. When Mom died, Dad’s social security checks stopped, which meant my brother now had no income. He decided to stay in Michigan, rather than move down to North Carolina, so we gave him some money to help him while he made the transition.
A few weeks later, he told me he’d started working in an entry-level position at a company I wasn’t familiar with and I began to be more hopeful about him.
It was the only time my brother Chris had ever lied to me.