Following Her Brother’s Murder, Saudia Carson Cares for Other Families During Their Hardest Moments

  Aaron Frey
  Friday, March 27, 2020 4:35 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Saudia Carson met tragedy five days before her 19th birthday, when her brother Malo was murdered in 1998.

But after first trying to escape the pain it had caused, Carson wanted to face it head-on and help others who had experienced the same heartache from the loss of a loved one.

“I had a lot of questions and no answers,” Carson said. “My brother was more than my brother. He was my father. He was my mother. He was my friend. So the questions I had weren’t being answered, and I just didn’t want people to feel that. I wanted to find some type of way to make somebody not have to feel what I went through.”

It sent her on a winding path that included leaving for the West Coast, time as a homeless single mother, coming back to Illinois and working throughout much of the central part of the state. She finally landed back where she began — Galesburg.

Carson, a 2012 graduate of Carl Sandburg College’s mortuary science program, is now a funeral director and embalmer at Watson-Thomas Funeral Home and Crematory in Galesburg. She’s also the first African-American deputy coroner and first female African-American mortician in Knox County history.

“That means the beginning,” Carson said of her historic roles. “The beginning for someone else to come behind me.”

But before coming back home, Carson wanted to get away in the years following her brother’s death. With $20 in her pocket and two young children in tow, Carson got on a train and headed for the West Coast.

“One thing about grief people don’t really explain to you is there’s no time,” Carson said. “For everyone else, they just seem to keep going so fast, but for me, everything was so slow. So in order for me to join the world again, I had to remove myself from what was familiar.”

She lived there for a decade, working as a certified nursing assistant. When patients died, Carson always had questions for the funeral directors who would arrive. They encouraged her to go to school, but with the cost of living so high on the coast, she wanted to find somewhere less expensive to attend classes and raise her family.

Sandburg and Galesburg, coincidentally, happened to be the perfect fit.

“I just felt like it was a sign so I came back home,” Carson said. “It’s something I knew I wanted, and it just so happened that Galesburg had it. And not only did they have it, they had a whole building for it.”

Now a mother of four, Carson enrolled at Sandburg in 2010. It made for a lot of late nights with little sleep after spending hours learning from mortuary science program director Tim Krause and associate professor Matt Kendall.

“I’d come home from school late because I was in the accelerated program, make dinner for my kids, help them, get them all ready for bed,” Carson said. “And then I’d sit at that laptop with my little study cards and my highlighters. And then before I know it, the sun was coming up and it was time to do it all over again.”

Carson graduated in 2012 and became a licensed funeral director and embalmer the following year. She worked anywhere she could to gain experience, even for free at times. Carson spent time in Peoria, Decatur and Springfield. She would go to Chicago just to get more experience embalming. Throughout those jobs, she dealt with 118 homicides.

“And they were special to me, because I knew their feeling,” Carson said. “And I wanted to find a way to make it easier for the beginning of their mourning process, not to be rocked in life.”

She spent two years in Peoria with Service Corporation International, the largest funeral company in the world, before hearing about an opening at Watson-Thomas and coming back to Galesburg last October.

Carson, who hopes to operate her own business someday, said she knows she’s in the profession meant for her when she sits with families to hear stories of their loved one and empathizes with their grief. The biggest compliment she can receive, she said, is when they see their loved one in a casket for the first time and remark that they look beautiful.

“Because that’s the beginning of your mourning process. That’s what you’re going to stick with,” Carson said. “I tell people I’m honoring the dead by taking care of the living, because that’s what we do.”

After leaving Galesburg more than two decades ago to try to flee her darkest moment, Carson is back to help others cope with theirs.

“This is home,” Carson said. “I just had bad memories, so it feels good to let those go and replace them with something.”

Carl Sandburg College’s Mortuary Science Program is Celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2020! To learn more about this specialized program, contact our Welcome Center at 309.345.3500 or

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Aaron Frey