BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew Gerald was the first of three men killed in the line of duty on July 17, 2016. His widow, Dechia, and their children say they remember him every single day.
"See his eyes? Those are his blue eyes," said Gerald's daughter, Fynleigh, 4, who says her dad is in a pillow that's on her bed, bearing the words "My Daddy, The Hero."
Gerald's blue eyes are why Fynleigh identifies the pillow with her dad, but she also keeps a pillow made from his uniform in her closet. "It scares me because it huffs all night," said Fynleigh.
Even though she keeps the pillow in her closet, Fynleigh admits her daddy is always with her. "Because he is in Heaven, but he comes here to visit," said Fynleigh.
In fact, she has a Lego figure that she says is her daddy, and when he's not in her room, she says he's in his office. She's referring to a room in the house that is dedicated to the life of her father.
"It was a place, one solitary place where any one of us in this house can come when we need a minute. They can close the doors, we can sit in here and be left with our thoughts," said Dechia.
Dechia says she goes in there when she has to face reality, a reality that makes exactly one year on Monday. "It's been the worst roller coaster ride you can ever imagine with good days and bad days. Some days you don't want to get out of bed, but you don't have a choice because I have three kids who need me," said Dechia.
The three children also spend time in the room. Dechia's oldest daughter is, Dawclyn, 10, and of course there's also the miracle baby, Falyn. Dechia found out she was pregnant after her husband was killed. Falyn, also known as Baby Buttons, is now 4 months old.
"When I hold my brother, I feel like he is with me right now because my brother Falyn looks just like his daddy," said Dawclyn.
"If my kids weren't with me, I'm not sure I would be able to sit here and even talk to you about this. My kids have been a good distraction, but at the same time, it's been hard," said Dechia.
The Gerald family has been taking it one day at a time, constantly remembering their loved one, be it through Falyn's police bouncer or portraits of the children to honor Officer Gerald. Dawclyn has a picture with her mother's wedding dress with black and blue wings and Falyn has one of Superman to commemorate his father's time in the Marines and the Army, as well as him time spent on Blackhawk helicopters.
"The Superman emblem is what they used on their aircraft when they were always in flight, so it has a huge significance to us and let's just be honest, Matt was a superhero. He was my superhero," said Dechia.
Dechia believes Matthew served his purpose while on Earth: to serve the community. She says she wants to make him proud and make sure the children always know about their father. But even on what she considers to be good days, she's quickly reminded of his absence and all the firsts he is missing and will miss.
"There's a survivor's guilt in the widow world because we're all guilty we're all here and our spouses are missing out in our kids' lives or life in general," said Dechia.
But no matter what room of their house she goes in, she says she knows for a fact he is with her. Falyn carries his dad's nickname of Buttons, hence the buttons in his room and a helicopter pillow in his crib.
Dechia says behind the uniform and badge, Matthew Gerald was a son, father, and husband with a heart and feelings like any other human being. With his wedding ring around her neck, she says he's constantly with her, but long term, she realizes she has to accept reality.
"I want to get to the point that I'm no longer sad anymore and be happy and not feel guilty for being happy, but it's hard," said Dechia.
When asked what she wants the world to know one year after her husband's death, Dechia responded, "My biggest thing is I want the hatred and the attacking of police officers to go away."
A coming together and everyone's continued prayers to help her through this life she did not ask for, is all Dechia asked for.