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Excerpt From 'When the Time Comes'

Paula Span's friend, Deb Noto had two jobs, was getting married, was hip-deep in real estate matters and her mother was dying of cancer.

I drove down to suburban Baltimore in September, three weeks before the big day, to find Deb [Noto] and her fiancé Doug Mueller, her bridesmaid Sheila, and her mother Dolores Noto all clustered around Deb’s kitchen, making chocolates for wedding favors. They formed a small assembly line: Sheila melted chocolate discs in the microwave, then poured the liquid chocolate into molds. Deb unmolded the candy, squares which now bore messages like “To Love, To Honor.”

Mrs. Noto was fitting sheets of color-coordinated tissue paper into white boxes, on which Doug had painstakingly stenciled a golden M for Mueller. Once the boxes were filled with chocolates, Doug tied the boxes with ribbons and charms—while simultaneously watching the NASCAR races, his other great love.

Mrs. Noto was getting a kick out of things. She’d had a lovely time at Deb’s shower brunch the previous weekend, though it tired her, and was chatting happily about how yummy the French toast casserole was.

“You’re doing great, Mom,” Deb said fondly, watching. “You’re a big help.”

“You’re welcome, darling.”

It had puzzled me, as the months passed, to see Deb Noto submerge herself in these sorts of wedding preparations. She had two jobs; she was getting married; she was hip-deep in real estate matters and her mother, sometimes imperceptibly, was dying of cancer. Did she really need to spend time filling gold organza bags with heart-shaped rice for her guests to throw?

Naturally she wanted her mother at her wedding, but I wondered why she and Doug hadn’t opted for a quiet ceremony with their pastor or a justice of the peace. She was a down-to-earth woman, not some narcissistic bridezilla. Why was she making things so hard for herself?

After a while, though, I’d come to understand that these elaborate preparations were, in part, a gift she was giving her mother. She wanted Mrs. Noto to have happy activities to feel part of, to have many excursions and celebrations jotted on her weekly calendar. She wanted her to have something to look forward to.

It would have been simpler, Deb acknowledged, to have planned a spring wedding. Sell condo, buy house, move Mom in, contemplate centerpieces and favors later—that would have been the sensible course. But “later” was too risky.

“Things are going to take a turn one day,” Deb said. In the meantime, “I want her to have some laughter in her life.”

Excerpted from When the Time Comes by Paula Span. Copyright © 2009 by Paula Span. Used by permission of Springboard Press, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.