On April 21, 2021, at 7 p.m., Kulten Sargent said goodbye to his mom and stepped out into the golden California sunset. He was in a good mood. He was young, his future was bright … and he had a date.
“That was the last time I saw my son alive,” says Melissa Sargent, a member from Ramona, California.
Two hours later, Kulten’s truck hit a bump in the road. It spun out of control and slammed into a light pole, killing both teens on impact. Kulten was pronounced dead at 9:21 p.m. He was 18 years old.
Here, as she approaches the second anniversary of her son’s death, Melissa shares her thoughts on life after unimaginable loss.
Modern Woodmen: What do you want people to remember about Kulten?
Melissa: So many things. He had a great work ethic and knew hard work paid off. Even as a teenager, he wanted to be able to provide for himself. He ran his own landscaping business and did painting and other odd jobs. He was also on the construction team at school, which he loved. And he was so good at it! A local construction company had awarded him a paid internship after high school.
Kulten was outdoorsy, and he loved animals. He showed swine and steer through 4-H. Having grown up with FFA myself, I wanted all three of my kids to appreciate the value of farming and know where their food comes from. Kulten really believed the same.
He was just this amazing kid. He was the one who’d stay in from recess to help the teacher clean up. And he was a great big brother – his two little sisters had him wrapped around their fingers. He’d prep the fields at their softball games, set up music and run the snack bar. Kulten’s Snack Shack now stands in honor of the service he provided.
Kulten’s funeral service was standing-room only. More than 450 people showed up at our church. There were people whose lawns he mowed – people I’d never even met. Kulten wasn’t your average kid. He was larger than life.
Kulten wasn’t your average kid. He was larger than life.
MW: You secured life insurance for your kids in 2017 – what prompted that?
M: My mother-in-law bought the kids policies through [a different life insurance company] when they were born. When I got them Modern Woodmen life insurance, it was never with a thought of using it. As a mom, I wanted to set them up for the future. It didn’t cost much, and I knew they’d be able to carry it over as adults.
MW: You used Kulten’s life insurance to start a nonprofit in his memory. What inspired you?
M: Between Modern Woodmen and the other life insurance, we had a good chunk of money. We didn’t need the money for expenses, so we used it to start a foundation. Kulten for a Cause is our way of making sure our amazing kid is never forgotten. We give back in honor of him to causes that he cared about.
We support 4-H, FFA and the construction program at Kulten’s school. He was heavily involved in the youth program at our church, especially the summer camps, so we make sure every kid who wants to go can afford to.
We give back in honor of Kulten to causes that he cared about.
MW: How have you personally coped?
M: I started a grieving mothers’ group last year, and that’s helped. There are 53 of us, and we’ve all lost a child – we’re on this journey together. We share the ugly but also the good.
Last May, I hosted a retreat for some of the women. It was the anniversary of Kulten’s funeral service, and I didn’t want to fall into a hole. It was really for my benefit, but I think it ended up being good for all of us.
The moms came out to my farm, and we camped for two days. We did crafts, spa treatments, archery … all kinds of things. We learned about essential oils for grief. We spent time with my mini horses (I run a nonprofit called Heart and Hooves Therapy). And we had talks around the bonfire where we shared pictures of our kids and talked about where we’re at in our journey.
MW: How are you doing now?
M: Some days are worse than others. There’s sometimes a struggle to get out of bed, or a struggle to take care of myself, or even guilt for having smiled or laughed at something. It’s just the reality of grief. I’m still here. I have my daughters and my husband, so I can’t just give up. But you never get over the loss of a child.
When I’m really, really struggling, I find comfort in nature. Kulten loved the outdoors. I’ll see dragonflies or hawks or little rocks shaped like hearts – I find those all the time now – and I know he’s still with us.
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