LEWISTON — Beth LaFontaine knows about the stigma of mental illness, the stigma of suicide.
Last month, her brother-in-law, Paul, killed himself after a long history of mental illness. His suicide shocked his family. The 36-year-old had always been a shy, thoughtful person, LaFontaine said. He had a good heart. He loved animals, caring for up to 30 stray cats outside his School Street apartment building.
Which is why LaFontaine has organized a fundraiser Saturday for the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society. It’s partly to raise money, partly to erase the stigma of suicide and mental illness through a community conversation.
She’s doing it to honor Paul.
“If you ask me, this matters; this is what Paul wanted,” she said. “In his mind, his purpose was to take care of his cats. That was so important to him. We need to understand that cats, animals, are very therapeutic.”
She’s setting up a table in front of Marden’s and selling raffle tickets for prizes donated by area businesses, such as Fast Breaks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Central Maine Power Sports and Buddy T’s.
Paul had worked at Marden’s about 10 years ago. Back then, Assistant Manager Ann Alexander said, he was her boss. She remembers him making people laugh.
“We just had a good time every day with him,” Alexander said. “He always wanted to help everybody. One of my best memories of him is that he wanted to help everybody and he loved animals.”
LaFontaine said she’ll be out Saturday at 9:30 a.m. selling tickets and talking about Paul.
“It is the small things that people do in our community that really matter,” she said.