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Parade of Hearts reminds KC mother, her late daughter is never far away

Heart Aflutter
Posted at 8:19 AM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-18 11:02:59-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Many people have seen the art pieces from Parade of Hearts KC scattered across the Kansas City area. There is a total of 46 to be exact. When the committee introduced them, it had no idea how popular the installations would be, and how they would impact so many people. That's especially true for one mother, who lost her daughter to suicide in 2017.

"It told me that the artist of this heart understood," said BJ Thomas-Wilson, who misses her daughter, Regan, every day.

The heart that she connects with: Heart Aflutter at Mill Creek Park on the Plaza. It's painted to look like a monarch butterfly, a symbol of lost loved ones.

"You don’t see a big, giant, beautiful butterfly every single day," Thomas-Wilson said. "So, when you do see them, it kind of stops you and makes you just, kind of, take a moment to appreciate, and really look at the beauty of it all."

In honor of her daughter's birthday, Thomas-Wilson and her family set out on a heart scavenger hunt. They found butterflies on multiple hearts, including the one at Mill Creek. Thomas-Wilson said it makes her feel less alone.

"She [the artist] understands you need that as a parent, or even if you’ve lost a parent, or you’re just suffering with grief," Thomas-Wilson said. "It’s one of those tools that helps us deal with our grief, and help us feel close to the person that we miss so much."

The Parade of Hearts committee said it has heard similar heartwarming stories to this one.

"We talk about our hearts smiling when we read these stories, and they become an extension of Parade of Hearts, and it’s more than we could’ve ever asked for," said Jenn Nussbeck, the Executive Director of Parade of Hearts. "If there is love, healing, friendships develop, and a place that they can remember Regan, it just fills us with such gratitude and love."

Thomas-Wilson said her family will continue to do the walk every year in honor of Regan so long as the hearts are out. To the artist, she said thank you.

"Really, I would just say thank you because… so much thought went into this and it’s, it’s a gift," Thomas-Wilson said.

Thomas-Wilson is now a advocate of mental health and suicide awareness. She started the "Shifting Gears for Regan" Organization and is involved in others.