This Mother's Day was unlike any other for 71-year-old Polly Mathers.
As she sat in a room packed with other mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, she received a unique American Indian blessing.
She also felt the presence of her deceased daughter.
"This is my first Mother's Day without her," Mathers said. "I feel her with me. She's here with us today."
Mathers said she felt her daughter's spirit as she watched American Indian entertainer Cal Skyhawk Haynes perform traditional dances, rituals and blessings.
It was a first-of-its-kind Mother's Day event for DayOut, a Merced day center for the area's elderly, frail or disabled residents.
From a colorful eagle dance to an impressive hoop display, the program carried an important message peace, love and prosperity.
"We wish the mothers good health, fortune, peace and the balance of life," Skyhawk said. The 60-year-old storyteller has performed at schools, prisons, funerals and birthdays.
He concluded the presentation with an American Indian prayer, and by handing each participant a feather.
Mathers got an extra feather for her 54-year-old daughter, Dolores Greff, who died in November from melanoma, a type of skin cancer. A mother of four, Mathers also lost her husband last year.
"She takes so much as a mother, and she is so strong," said daughter Debbie Weeda, 53. "She never stops loving us no matter what happens in our family. I'm supposed to be lifting her up, but she lifts me."
Unconditional love is just part of being a mother, Mathers said. But sometimes mothers need a little support, and the DayOut program has provided that for Mathers.
"When I lost my daughter, I couldn't control my tears and my friends (in the program) would come up and cry with me," Mathers said. "As days go by, instead of crying it became hugs and kisses."
Cathy Osborn, DayOut's program director, said Friday's program was meant to celebrate all the mothers in the room.
"It was important to make them feel honored and appreciated," Osborn said.
Maria Cervantes, 85, is a mother to seven children. Cervantes said she enjoyed Friday's program, especially the "beautiful" performance by Skyhawk.
"When he was dancing, I wanted to dance with him," she said.
Skyhawk invited several volunteers to dance with him, saying "celebration does the heart good."
"To laugh, to play, it all comes from mothers," Skyhawk said. "People say babies are miracles. I believe God created the woman, and the mother that makes that child is a miracle."
For Mathers, being a mother is an incredibly rewarding job.
"You can't really put it into words," she said. "I think being a mom is a miracle."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.