How My Son's Long Hair Honors His Brother's Memory

How My Son’s Long Hair Honors His Brother’s Memory

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Courtesy of Jennifer Canvasser

My son Zachary has long hair and is sometimes mistaken for a little girl.

This does not bother either one of us. If it did, I would cut his hair. Many people tease me and have urged me to cut Zachary’s hair. I ignore them because they don’t understand what my family and I have been through, and how much deep meaning those seemingly insignificant things — like a little boy’s hair — can hold.

Courtesy of Jennifer Canvasser

Zachary’s twin brother, Micah, died from complications of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) just before their first birthday. To honor Micah, our family started a Giving Library at our local NICU to help parents bond with their medically fragile babies through reading. With the support of our community, we’ve donated thousands of storybooks to our NICU. Zachary and I recently delivered books to the NICU and then went up to the PICU, where Micah lived for months before he died. Zachary and I visited with Micah’s PICU nurses as well as Micah’s photo that hangs on the PICU’s Wall of Courage.

Courtesy of Jennifer Canvasser

I returned home with Zachary feeling both grateful to honor Micah and crushed to not have Micah on this Earth. I shared some photos of our special outing, and was surprised by one of the first comments:

“Why is his hair so long?”

I wrote back, “Because it is beautiful.”

Courtesy of Jennifer Canvasser

But what I really wanted to say is …

Zachary’s hair is long because Micah’s never will be.

When Micah was born, he had a head full of thick, beautiful hair. After Micah developed NEC and end-stage renal disease, he lost all of his hair. Seeing Micah bald, after he had a head full of gorgeous hair, was a constant reminder of his ill health. When Micah’s health improved, his hair grew back and thickened. When Micah’s health declined, his hair fell out.

Courtesy of Jennifer Canvasser

Micah’s last night here on Earth was spent in our arms. We held him tight, making sure he knew that he is deeply and forever loved. Before I gave my son a final kiss goodbye, I carefully braided and tied the bit of hair at the nape of Micah’s neck, and then carefully cut his hair to keep and treasure. On each anniversary of Micah’s passing, I take out the small envelope with his hair and kiss it, longing to have my son back in my arms.

Courtesy of Jennifer Canvasser

For me, Zachary’s hair is a symbol of his health. Zachary is incredibly healthy, vibrant, and bright — and his long hair is a testament to this. The tips of Zachary’s hair have experienced our entire journey, including his own three months in the NICU, every day with Micah, and saying goodbye to his brother. Our little boy loves his long hair, and we love knowing it’s part of our family’s story.

Many little boys have long hair simply because it is beautiful. Parents shouldn’t have to defend or explain the length of their child’s hair. It’s just hair, and yet for some families like mine, a child’s hair represents so much more.