Real Life Stories

Finding a New Normal

When Jon Bronemann’s wife Angi was killed in a car crash on U.S. 30 near Ames in 2001, he found solace in sharing positive messages learned from the experience. The most positive of these was his young son, Michael, then 17-months old, who was saved from death or serious injury because Angi had properly restrained him in his car seat that day.

Jon, Angi and Michael Bronemann taken shortly before Angi was killed  In a car crash near Ames. Photo courtesy of Jon Bronemann.
Jon, Angi and Michael Bronemann taken shortly before Angi was killed
In a car crash near Ames. Photo courtesy of Jon Bronemann.

Bronemann said, “I got involved with the effort to educate people about the importance of proper safety restraints just five weeks after Angi was killed. I spoke at the Capitol for the kickoff of the Buckle Up Baby campaign in May 2001. I was joined there by Officer Al Lavender of the Ames Police who pulled Michael from the wreckage that day. Al took great care in ‘ministering’ to me the days and weeks after the accident. He was careful to make sure that I was spared as many of the gory details as possible and he even went back to find my son’s sock monkey and cleaned it up prior to bringing it to us at the hospital. You can imagine what he was cleaning off of it. This particular accident hurt Al deeply. I know this because he admitted he carried Angi’s driver’s license in his uniform shirt pocket each day for several months. It was hard for him to let go and he finally mailed it back to me. Al has become a great friend. We speak every few months and see each other once a year or so. He even attended my wedding to my new wife, Tammy, five years ago. I am honored to call this man my friend.

“I met several of the other first responders from the accident that day at the Buckle Up Baby kickoff. Meeting the young fireman who did CPR on Angi was very hard. To see his own sadness and grief is something I will never forget. Our first responders are victims of these accidents too. They carry the images of these accidents with them daily, but continue to respond to the next call and the next sad set of circumstances with such dedication and compassion for others. These are the true heroes.”

Since the crash, Bronemann has been able to move on in his life, due in part to a grief support group he and his wife, Tammy, started through their church in Cedar Falls. He said, “My wife, Tammy, who lost her husband to cancer, and I found that this was needed as there wasn’t anything locally for young grieving spouses when we started our own grief journeys. We also do a grief support group for preretired people at Cedar Valley Hospice.”

Through this experience, the Bronemanns have learned a valuable lesson to share, “All that you have, and means the world to you, really can be taken from you in an instant,” said Bronemann. “The things that you most cherish in your life can and will be taken from you if you don’t take the right precautions and act accordingly, and this includes buckling up, among other things. I have helped families in the grief process who have lost children in car accidents. The guilt and questions of ‘why’ are so hard to help them deal with. If something as simple as taking a second to click a seat belt can save a person from a lifetime of grief, I sure think it is worth it to do.”

Jon (right) and Michael (center) have lobbied for increased passenger safety belt laws since Michael was saved from  serious injury or death in a crash that killed his mother nine years ago. Photo courtesy of Jon Bronemann.
Jon (right) and Michael (center) have lobbied for increased passenger safety belt laws since Michael was saved from
serious injury or death in a crash that killed his mother nine years ago. Photo courtesy of Jon Bronemann.

In addition to one-on-one and small group counseling, Bronemann has continued his lobbying efforts to improve seat belt laws by working closely with the advocacy group from Blank Children’s Hospital. He said, “I personally wrote each member of the legislature that was either leaning toward voting against or was definitely against the changes to the [Iowa] laws we were proposing. This law came up several times over the last nine years; and sometimes it wouldn’t even make it out of the subcommittee or would be killed by leaders of the house or senate before it would even come up for debate. I made trips to Des Moines to meet personally with a few legislators at some informal gatherings to educate them on why these changes were necessary.”

Bronemann said, “It really helps to know that after almost nine years of sharing a very painful story with hundreds of people firsthand, and thousands through the media and commercials, that we have this new law that will guide parents in what to do and why it is so important. I would not have Michael today if my wife wasn’t so cautious about how and where he was buckled up. I wanted to share this story with others to possibly spare them even a portion of the grief I’ve experienced. There isn’t a time that my own children get in the car that they don’t buckle up.

“Being involved with this allowed me to heal. My grieving process was public as a result. In our grief support ministry, both my wife and I will say that you need to tell your story a thousand times before you can begin to heal and move on to your ‘new normal.’ If you can’t share your story, it is almost impossible to move forward. The body needs to grieve. If you don’t let it out, it will eventually come out on its own, and many times in unproductive and hurtful ways.

To see this law in place has helped me have a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing that publicly sharing my grief and pain wasn’t done in vain; and for Michael, that losing his mother wasn’t in vain either. Something very, very good has come from all of this.”