South Charlotte

Coping with the loss of a child's mentor

There is no direction manual for raising a child, but sometimes I wish there was. The joyous times are light and easy, but it's the tragic times that can be difficult to explain and move through.

However, I have learned these teachable moments are essential for personal growth.

On Jan. 23, I received an automated phone call from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools that Dr. Barry Bowe, principal of Northwest School of the Arts, had died unexpectedly. I had to sit down and collect myself before I could tell my daughter, Jazlyn, 18, a senior dance major at the performing arts magnet school.

I knew she would be upset because she loved and respected him.

I had interviewed Dr. Bowe last year for an article for this column and was touched by how much he cared for his students and how he had worked to turn the school around since he took over in 2008.

I appreciated how he created a positive environment for my daughter to pursue her artistic interests and be accepted and supported by her peers.

"My kids know that my door is always open and that I am there for each of them," he told me. And I knew he meant it.

And now I had to tell my daughter she would no longer hear Dr. Bowe's voice as he greeted students in the hallway and that he would no longer be there to cheer her and the other kids on at their performances.

When Jazlyn came into the room, she knew from looking at me something wasn't right and said, "Mom, what's wrong?" I told her what I had heard and she sunk down on the couch beside me. Together, we cried over the loss of this mentor to so many.

At school the next day there were counselors on hand to assist the students with their sorrow and confusion. Jazlyn heard a rumor that Dr. Bowe had committed suicide. When she got home she asked me if this was true. I sadly confirmed that it was.

By this time, the media had reported details of his passing and the controversy surrounding it: Dr. Bowe was under investigation after a gun was reportedly found at a dance a month earlier. Parents said Bowe had been given an ultimatum by the school board to resign or be fired because of allegations that security was insufficient.

I did my best to keep Jazlyn grounded and communicative about what she was feeling. She struggled to make sense of this situation.

She talked about how he had impacted her life. "I feel like Dr. Bowe worked hard to create this unique environment for us to excel in. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be pursuing my dreams to go to college in the fall to study dance. As seniors, many of us were looking forward to the day when Dr. Bowe would hand us our diplomas."

I could only let time process her grief while she learned lessons that could never be taught in a classroom.

A month has passed since this loss and much healing has occurred for Northwest family. Students, faculty, alumni and friends celebrated Bowe's life at a memorial service. School life has returned to normal but with a definite void.

Jazlyn says she misses Dr. Bowe's positive energy around the school and hearing his distinctive quote "Northwest is simply the best" every afternoon on the announcements.

Time is passing quickly as Jazlyn finishes up projects for her much anticipated graduation. She is looking forward to June 12 when she and her classmates get their prized diplomas.

Even though Dr. Bowe won't be handing them their diplomas, I believe he'll be there, cheering them on at this final performance of their high school career.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.