Blackstone woman celebrates living funeral with jazz-style procession

Blackstone woman celebrates living funeral with jazz-style procession

Walterine “Wally” Delareau, surrounded by members of the Catnip Junkies, leads her New Orleans-style funeral procession down St. Paul Street. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

BLACKSTONE – Walterine Deraleau never thought she’d live to see her own funeral.

The lifelong Blackstone resident traveled to New Orleans with family in April to experience the music and jazz culture she’d always loved. It was there she and her daughter, Kimberly Poirier, began speaking about holding a New Orleans-style funeral procession after she was gone.

“She said, ‘Mom, why are we waiting?’” recalled Deraleau, known to her friends as “Wally.”

With that thought in mind, the family set about planning a “living funeral” so she could experience the vibrancy of a New Orleans funeral parade firsthand. The parade tradition draws from the city’s jazz and brass cultures and often pays tribute to prominent residents. Though usually reserved for the deceased, Deraleau decided it wasn’t worth the wait. At 86, she is in good health, but didn’t want to miss the chance to celebrate with loved ones.

“You never know when you’re going to go. Best have a party before,” Poirier said.

Watch Deraleau party.

The result was a celebration of life and music that would rival any Fourth of July parade. The procession stepped off from Deraleau’s home on St. Paul Street at noon last Friday, July 16, winding its way to Roosevelt Park. Poirier booked a brass band for the occasion and invited all their relatives and friends. Many of them flew in from out-of-state, gathering to honor a woman who’d become known for her regular walks around Blackstone over the years.

Catnip Junkies, a New Orleans-style band with members from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, led the parade. Drivers stopped to honk their horns or wave as Deraleau danced her way down St. Paul Street in feather boa, dressed in black for the occasion. The band started off with “St. James Infirmary,” a traditional New Orleans dirge, before moving onto “When the Saints Go Marching In” and other peppy tunes. Family members hummed along on kazoos as they marched to the park.

“It’s a first for Blackstone,” said Deraleau, catching her breath between songs.

A town native, she grew up on Main Street before marrying Alfred Deraleau. Alfred passed away in 2001, and she continued living in the St. Paul Street home they’d already shared for 45 years.

At Roosevelt Park, friends swapped stories and enjoyed gourmet donuts from a food truck as the band played on.


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Karen Carney, a Blackstone native, flew up from South Carolina to attend the event.

“When I heard they were doing this, I couldn’t miss this,” she said.

Another friend, Cindy Noble of Holt Funeral Home in Woonsocket, introduced herself as Deraleau’s “official undertaker” for the day.

Asked about the large crowd, Deraleau laughed at the good turnout, which included her nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

“Blackstone’s a small town. So you know everybody. Plus, there’s free food,” she said.

Beth Silvia, singer and bandleader for the Catnip Junkies, said that while funeral processions are common in New Orleans, this is the first one the band has played for a living person.

Poirier said she thinks more people would be interested in holding a living funeral to celebrate their loved ones if they knew about the idea. While she was applying for a permit to use Roosevelt Park, she said, members of the Parks and Recreation Commission commented what a good idea it was.

“It’s just to have a good time before a real funeral when it’s not so fun,” she said.

Walterine “Wally” Deraleau, left, enjoys the festivities of her own living funeral procession from her home on St. Paul Street last week.

Comments

Wally, I was so happy to read that you did a pretend NOLA funeral. What fun you, Kim and the family must have had. I wished that I had known. Anyway, happy to see that you are still putting miles on those tires. Love to all, Mary Callahan Cimini