A Physiological Argument for God: How My Brother's Death Proved the Exsistence of God
Ihave very little control over what types of stories spill out of me. If I could explain the process it would be the accumulation of a bunch of thought deposits. A story or a poem will build inside my head. It will accumulate until the weight spills outside of my body. There is a physical ache, an all-consuming ache that takes over the mind and the body until the words spill onto paper freeing me of its oppressive nature. I have gotten out of bed in the middle of the night just to feel the release of words. In saying this, I can’t really help the back-to-back heavy topics I have explored.
Days ago, I spilled truths about my daughter’s birth which in some way was precipitated by her surgery but the details and the fashion in which it was shared was the overflow of ideas fighting to leave the spaces in my mind where they gather. It has been on my heart to write about Lloyd. For those of you who don’t know Lloyd was and is my little brother. He died on March 25, 2019, of a fatal drug overdose, and was found by my horrified parents. Even as I type, I don’t really know how to tell the entire story. I don’t even know the direction in which it will go, only that for the last few weeks I have envisioned his outstretched arm.
When I was told that my brother was dead, my knees lost their ability to hold my weight and I found myself on them. Ironically, it was exactly where I needed to fall. I have replayed what this may look like from the outside of my body. I thought about why people lose their ability to stand in instances that break their hearts and pierce their whole state of being. In recent days, I have concluded that perhaps God created us to have physiological reactions to extreme pain and grief where we are innately programmed to seek him. Why is this so novel? The body is programmed to do a great many things. It is a finely tuned machine that reacts, rejects and replenishes itself. It is such an incredible specimen that other specimens are created from, and in women, inside of it. Sometimes I ponder over how smartly made we are. We feel pain to alert us that we are dying. We throw up to rid ourselves of substances that would do us harm. When we tear or scrape our skin, new skin forms and we live another day but now with scars to remind us to be more aware of our mortal shells. Knowing all this, why is it so absurd to think our masterful maker may have created us to fall to our knees because that is precisely where we need to be when tragedy happens? It is no different than any other bodily process that preserves us in our human state, safekeeping our earthly existence. I contend we likely have more visceral responses that point to a maker, to a creator, and I think my brother’s outstretched arm was one of them.
Before I detail the day of his death, I want to share with you a brief part of what I wrote in his obituary to give you some semblance of who he was. When I wrote this, I grabbed my notebook, a pen, and my Bible and sat by the water. It was the most difficult words I had ever had to string together. I could barely see from crying so hard and I was filled with doubt regarding my talents. How could I even be remotely worthy of telling people who he was and what he meant to me, what he meant to my parents, the love and admiration his friends felt in his presence? How would I remotely depict the void: the empty feeling in my stomach and the hurt that swelled inside of me threatening to swallow me whole? There weren’t enough words in the dictionary. But here is what spilled out of that busy mind of mine:
“Lloyd Brandon “Duke” Clevenger, 34, beloved son and brother, adoring uncle and friend to anyone he met, passed away to be with our merciful Lord and Savior on Monday, March 25, 2019. Lloyd loved making people laugh and his smile could ignite even the darkest of rooms ablaze. He was a fiercely loyal friend to those he grew up with, and his friends were always considered “family”. Lloyd served honorably in the United States Army and risked his life in combat for the safety and freedoms of his fellow Americans. More than his innate patriotism, Lloyd wanted to follow the example of his father who he considered to be his hero and who also served this country in the United States Army for over two decades until his subsequent retirement. Lloyd loved Duke basketball, hunting with his grandfather, teasing his beloved niece, and he loved his momma something fierce. He was looked up to by his cousins, adored by his aunts, uncles and grandparents. He was the quintessential “good guy”, and he could talk you into absolutely anything.
Lloyd had a bleeding heart for people and was the type of guy that would pull over for strangers even if he was running behind (which was very likely). He was one heck of a baby brother and his passing has broken our hearts but strengthened our resolve to live each day with humor, kindness, and with purpose. We will honor you always and love you forever.”
This was as close as I could get, but it didn’t scratch the surface. I don’t know what else I could have said but I live with the hurt of inadequacy: a hurt only outmatched by the understanding that my brother was deprived of so much life, so many meaningful experiences that stand as the hallmark of a life well-lived.
For me the “why” never burns as much as the “what if”. It is the cross that I bear but it has ultimately made me live differently: fearlessly, so that those I leave behind don’t grapple with my “what ifs”. My brother’s last day was a lot like the New Testament. It consists of the testimonies of people who interacted with him, his death made sure that I would never have a first-hand account. Right before his funeral, I was sent emails from a young lady who was with him and her mother: a woman he encountered on that last day. Here is the story as it was told to me.
My brother had been in a substance abuse program for the better part of 8 months. He was doing well. He was working in a factory, abstaining from drugs and he was expressing a desire to permanently live in the Western part of NC to reimagine a life derailed by poisonous substances that had hijacked the very best parts of him. He was on a 3-day pass to take a trip to Las Vegas and he had recruited a girl he had been talking with online to accompany him. The young lady had no inclinations that he was currently living in a rehabilitation center or that he had long suffered from substance abuse. Here is what she told me: She said that they had made several stops that day. One of which was to my parent’s home where my brother had told my father that he needed to borrow money for his trip as his paycheck was nor going to be cleared in time for his departure. Full of love and the consistency of 8 months of clean time, my father handed over two hundred dollars to his namesake. While he has never outwardly told me this: I know my father grapples with giving my brother that money. I know somewhere deep inside he blames himself for giving him the money he requested and that he is aware that it was used to buy the drugs that killed his only son: his baby boy. Dad, if you ever read this, it is not your fault. He was determined. He would have inevitably found a way to get what he wanted, at any cost, at all costs. Forgive yourself.
According to her email, the girl began to notice a few things that made her uneasy during this day. First, my brother was stopping multiple places with odd excuses for why they were making the stop. Next, my brother had started to complain of feeling sick but was blaming it on recently being injected with a flu shot. Finally, the quality of people and places that they were visiting had started to unnerve her as they were seemingly unsavory and not the places or people she would have imagined that my brother kept company with.
Before dropping my brother off at my parent’s house, the pair made a final stop at the girl’s own home. She went to her room to assemble some of her things for tomorrow’s trip and my brother sat alone in her living room and engaged in one of the poignant conversations with the girl’s mother. As she describes it, the girl’s mother says that my brother, while courteous, was seemingly uneasy. She said that initially the two exchanged obligatory pleasantries but she said she felt in her spirit that something was really wrong with my brother. She said he began to open up to her. He began to vaguely describe that he had a good heart and good intentions but that he would often engage in behaviors that he felt were in opposition to his conscience, his well being and the manner in which he was raised. It was at that time that this woman asked my brother something so pivotal. She said,”Do you believe in God?” He replied that he did and that in his room was a BIble that he would pick up from time to time but not as much as he should. The woman explained to him that the answers to his hurt and fleshly shortcomings were in that good book. Before my brother departed her home, the woman said to my brother, “I will pray for you, Lloyd.” And she did.
When my brother returned to my parents, my parents said that he jostled with my daughter for a little bit as she was currently staying with them as I was in Eastern North Carolina attempting to reimagine my own life. My parents said that he excused himself upstairs to the loft that is attached to their kitchen saying that he was still feeling poorly. It was the last time they would see him alive. When my father woke up around 5 am, he noticed that his phone had gone all night not eing charger because his charger was missing. Irritated, he opened the door to the upstairs loft and shouted for my brother to bring him his cord. Nothing. My father shouted once more. Silence. As he scaled the stairs towards my brother, my father had a looming feeling. This feeling was confirmed when he inched towards the bed in the loft and immediately noticed that my brother’s arm was in a state of paralyzation, outstretched to the sky. My father rushed toward my brother and in a state of sheer panic he yelled out to my mother to call 9-1-1. Instead, she rushed upstairs to find my father doing chest compressions on her youngest child. She told me the image was a thing of nightmares. She described that he was cold, “So cold” she declared and she detailed that “he didn’t even look like himself because he was blue and bloated.” She too described that outstretched arm that was extending into the air, frozen in time even after his time had expired.
Hearing my parents depict this is really an indescribable hurt. It is like anything I have ever felt but seeing them depict the images that haunt them makes me physically ill. No one deserves to see such a thing especially not to their baby boy. I often wonder if his life flashed before them as it does in the movies. If they began to play a reel of when he would hide with cookies under the china closet as a barefoot little boy, if they saw him playing sports with his teammates while in school or they imagined him running with those same arms outstretched to greet them when they returned from work as a toddler. It hurts too much to think they had. All I know is there is a light gone in their eyes. A light that once burned with fervor for life. That image of the life that they had created together in love lying there unrecognizable had extinguished that light and it wasn’t coming back. Not ever.
In a matter of an hour, my parent's house was swarming with police and paramedics. They wheeled their son out in a black bag on a gurney as they sat stunned. In all of the madness, the sirens, and people did not wake up my little girl. My parents had the love and consideration for my baby to not tell her a thing. They got her dressed, they wiped their tears and they took her to school that day as if they had not just endured the greatest tragedy of their life. They knew fully that this was my conversation to have with my daughter and I can't tell you the admiration I have for my parents for the manner in which they handled that awful situation. I can’t count the thank yous I have exalted to God for letting my little girl sleep through everything. It was truly a miracle. My parent’s selfless act gave me the time to head home from the coast, arrange for my daughter’s friend to be there with her in solidarity, and to tell her with her father by my side, to avoid the chaos of wheeling her deceased uncle out on a gurney. I really don’t know how my parents kept it together, but I thank them from the bottom of my heart for preserving the heart and innocence t of my little girl even when their own hearts were completely obliterated.
The stories I was told help me paint a picture of what my brother was experiencing on his last day. He was fighting against an unseen enemy, embarking on a wild goose chase to find a poison that was slowly killing him, and even when the warning system God installed into his body to let him know it was killing him, he injected more straight into his veins in hopes it would stop the inward hurt that had ravaged his mind. until his body ultimately would succumb to its deadly effects. For people who have never struggled with addiction, they can’t wrap their heads around why he would do such a thing, but I understand completely. As much as the poison ravages the body it tricks the mind. It whispers the promise of relief and euphoria that far outweigh the threats of mortality.
My brother didn’t want to die. I feel solace in knowing that on the day of his death he knew God. That mother who felt compelled to ask him if he believed in God served as an intercessory to his soul. She did not know why she felt the need to ask but she did. Moved by things beyond her own control she beckoned him to affirm the maker that would he inevitably meet in just a few hours. The only other solace that I have is the physiological response that he had that stood in solidarity with my knees buckling when I was told the news. My brother’s arm lay outstretched to the sky as if to cry out to God that he needed him! That physiological response makes me know that in his last moments my brother reached for his heavenly father as if to say he knew that he was finished with his earthly journey but that he was fully aware of the direction in which his ethereal voyage was going to go. He reached to the sky where he now resides, where he watches me try my best to leave my mark, where he comforts my parents for their trauma, and where he cheers on his niece as she finds her way in a world that was so unkind to him.
From time to time I cry for my brother. I wish I could call him. He was so funny. In these times I reach to the sky and feel peace. I love you, little brother. Thank you for your life. I vow to never let anyone forget it.