With thousands of crucial yet everyday people comprising the Utah Valley community, the Daily Herald would like to further highlight and share the real stories and impact of those who have recently departed. “A bit more of the story” reflects those efforts and remembers those lives.
Kevin Wall died by his own hand, but lived with his hands outstretched to others.
Kevin passed away May 20 in Lehi after struggling for many years with depression. Many in his circle of family, friends and acquaintances knew nothing of his own inner darkness because he was always happily helping others in both small and big ways.
“It’s hard to see that somebody who had so much light and hope for everybody else couldn’t find it for himself,” said his sister Jennifer Teng last week. “I really feel his personal struggles gave him the ability to empathize with just about anybody.”
This was very apparent at his funeral, Teng said, when an eclectic mix of people showed up to pay tribute to this 28-year-old man. Her family was surprised with the outpouring of love and memories shared by complete strangers there and on his memorial Facebook page.
“I don’t think any of us realized what he was up to with so many people,” Teng said. “Countless people were talking about how he was their best friend, saying they wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.”
Kevin grew up in Southern California, a singer in his high school choir, and a teen businessman. He sold candy to classmates, and was able to earn enough money for a trip to Italy. As he grew older, he loved crosswords, karaoke, telling jokes and “Pokemon Go.”
Teng said her brother would joke that “Pokemon Go” was the only way he got exercise, and he wanted to be a stand-up comedian but he was too lazy.
“So he’d say he’d have to be a sit-down comedian,” Teng said. “But that’s funny, because he was such a hard worker.”
Teng knows her brother was not perfect. After high school graduation, he floundered a bit finding what he wanted to do with his life, Teng said, and had a few minor brushes with the law. But he always worked hard — often at two jobs.
“He’d work so hard and take pride in how hard he worked, but I think a lot of employers took advantage of that. So he’d get frustrated and move on. Then they’d have to hire two people to replace him,” Teng said.
He also worked hard at making each person feel their own importance, Teng said.
“He really wanted us to be more aware of the people around us,” she said.
After his death, his family set about doing just that through their #liveforkevin Facebook page and service. At the Wall family reunion this summer, family members put together about 150 hygiene kits. Even before assembling the kits, the Wall family involved others in service.
Prior to the reunion, Susan Wall, Kevin’s mother, created a sign-up sheet for donations and sent it to her cousins and their families, and to her co-workers in California. She received so many donations she wasn’t sure how to fly them all to Utah for the reunion. She finally settled on packing them in multiple suitcases.
After the service project, the family didn’t send them off, but kept them in their cars to hand out to homeless people in need within their own communities around Utah and California. Family members told Susan Wall that passing those kits out were the best part of their day.
“This project has not only helped those less fortunate on the streets, but has also helped many of us to be more grateful for what we have and think about others,” Susan Wall said. “In Kevin’s note that he left, he said he just wasn’t meant for this time and that he wanted all of us to be more kind to everyone in the world. That is a tall order, but we’ll do what we can.”
The Wall family continues to do what they can. Susan Wall organized a similar hygiene kit gathering event in her hometown, so friends there could participate. Teng and her children walked in a local parade over the summer to support the Medicaid expansion, so people have more opportunity to access health care. One of Kevin’s sisters paid for a stranger’s gas on the spur of the moment one day. At the end of September, Kevin’s family did the Alive & Running 5K in Los Angeles, a race that supports the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center.
Reflecting on her brother’s struggles, Teng said she feels like mental illness is not talked about enough, and in the right way.
“It’s not treated like the illness it is, and people feel shame about it. Cancer sufferers don’t feel shame, and it’s like a cancer, but not treated the same way,” Teng said.
She issued a call to action for better openness.
“It’s really easy to give up, when you try things and they don’t work, and you felt no hope in the first place,” Teng said. “I think people living healthy, normal lives with treatment are too quiet. Those stories need to be louder, so these people who are struggling can see there’s hope to keep trying. It’s hard to get the right medicine, to find the right counselor, to do life modifications, but there are all sorts of ways people are living with it and being productive.”