The most certain thing about mothers is we can't take a breath in this strange world without coming through them.
Yes, males among us must contribute to the process of creating and sustaining life. And there certainly are many good fathers.
But it's those who carry us within their bodies from zygote for some nine months who most often wind up left to do the nurturing and parenting when a relationship fails.
My place in this world, along with sister Gaye and brother Grant, undoubtedly would have led to far different outcomes without the many contributions of the late Elaine Hammerschmidt Masterson of Harrison.
The abundant love displayed by our mother was thankfully sufficient to instill security within us. Nurturing came naturally to her. She and four siblings had been loved by caring parents.
That meant she was reared by effective role models who guided her behavior when her time as a mother arrived.
I write in honor of Elaine Masterson and all the mothers who deliver our squalling selves into this realm.
We were blessed with a mother who continually put our needs above her own. Doting is too strong a word for the many ways she constantly saw to our well-being. Yet we always realized which parent was most likely to listen with empathy and compassion.
It took a while for us to recognize all she sacrificed on our behalf because that's the sort of thing that is taken for granted, especially in young human beings.
In our case, Elaine remained a spiritually driven force long after we'd had children of our own.
I recall she seemed to always have us on her mind, even as age began noticeably fogging her cognition, though her naturally upbeat disposition remained unaffected.
Her recollection began fading during her early 70s after she'd suffered from small strokes.
Early one predawn morning during my late 40s, I was awakened from a deep slumber by the phone beside my bed. Still groggy, I answered in a weak voice in contrast to her happy greeting."Well, hello there! What are you doing, son?"
"Well, Mom, since it's 3 in the morning, I'm sleeping. What are you doing?"
"Oh, I hadn't noticed. I'm sorry, I've been watching TV on the couch, lost track of the time and thought I'd give you a call and tell you I love you."
I assured her I loved her, too, and we hung up shortly afterwards. With my head on the pillow, I couldn't become irritated over a good dream interrupted, although I'll admit to wanting to be. Instead, I realized that one day before too long--and if I lived long enough--I'd never receive another call from her. I'd never again hear her soft and loving voice.
Lying there, I stared at the ceiling and realized how many adults already were in that position and how fortunate I was to realize she wanted to hear her oldest son's voice regardless of the time of day.
During her final days in a Texas nursing home, I'd been living away from her in another state for some time. Grant and I went to visit her.
He told me she was in a wheelchair at that point and didn't look remotely like the vibrant, well-kept and gregarious mother we'd known.
"In fact, you probably won't recognize her, and I'm sure she won't recognize us," he said. Just in case, I'd brought along a photograph of the three of us as children.
We spied her almost as soon as we entered the large common room. Sure enough, she was sitting in a corner in a wheelchair with her head down. It was crushing to see the once-vibrant rodeo queen in such condition.
She lifted her head as we approached her and I leaned over to kiss her forehead and softly say, "Hi, Mom. I've really missed you." She seemed confused.
Grant said, "See, she doesn't recognize us."
What I immediately recognized in her aged face were her tell-tale crystal-blue eyes. I showed her the photo, asking, "Remember when your children were this young?"
She studied the picture then stared back at me, then back at the picture. A slight smile crossed her face as I said, "I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything you did for us and gave us."
As Mom looked deeply into my face, I could tell she had glimmers of remembrance. In a whisper-soft voice she uttered, "I love you too." Her mother's love had indeed survived even the ravages of little strokes and time.
Then I said we understood where she was in her existence and that it was okay to let go and venture on ahead of us, because it was obviously time for her to find peace within this depressing place and that chair.
"Don't hang on for us, Mom. You have our permission to go. You'll always be revered for the way you raised us with so much love. Our love for you will be eternal."
Several days later, lying unconscious beneath her favorite picture of Jesus, Mom left this world, rejoicing to enter an afterlife she always was certain awaited her.
And so today I honor her role in our lives and will always appreciate what a critical and precious role she played in our own fleeting existences, as do so many mothers.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.