“After fulfilling his final wish to see and talk with Santa Claus, a terminally-ill 5-year-old kid died in the arms of Father Christmas.” This is the sad and heartbreaking story told by a 60-year-old man who spends time volunteering as Santa Claus at a local hospital.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro, Tennessee, plays Santa at different gigs every year. He already met a lot of people and granted a lot of different Christmas wishes all throughout the year. Among the people he met, there’s one boy in a Tennessee hospital who he will surely never forget, ever.
Over a month ago, Eric got an urgent phone call from a nurse saying that there was a very sick kid who wanted to see Santa Claus. Since he just got home from work, Eric answered that he will just change into his suit and will come right away. But the nurse replied that the boy probably had little time left.
‘Your Santa suspenders are good enough,’ she then said. ‘Come right now.’
After few minutes, Schmitt-Matzen arrived in his Santa suspenders outfit. He then met the boy’s family in the Intensive Care Unit. The mother of the kid handed him a toy (Paw Patrol) that he should give to her son as a present.
‘I sized up the situation and told everyone, “If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job,'” Schmitt-Matzen said.
‘When I turned around, where is everyone? Already outside, crying in the hallway,’ he told DailyMail.com.
Schmitt-Matzen then walks towards the bed side of the little boy, all while holding his tears and emotions.
‘He was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,’ he said.
‘I sat down on his bed and asked, “Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas.’ ‘Why, you’re my Number One elf!’
The boy then looked up to him and stared blankly at his Santa Claus beard and said: “I AM?”
Schmitt-Matzen answered with a resounding yes, assuring him that he was and then he handed him the toy.
‘He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.’
The little boy then asked the big question that really caught Schmitt-Matzen’s emotions.
‘They say I’m gonna die,’ he told Schmitt-Matzen. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
Instead of answering anything, Schmitt-Matzen responded by asking the kid to do him a ‘big favor’.
‘When you get there, you tell them you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in,’ he told the boy.
‘They will?’ the child asked.
‘Sure!’ Schmitt-Matzen confidently replied.
The boy then sat up and gave him a big hug. He also asked: ‘Santa, can you help me?’
But before Schmitt-Matzen can even reply, the boy died.
‘I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there,’ Schmitt-Matzen said.
‘He was in my arms when I felt him pass.
Schitt-Matzen doesn’t know what he should do at that time.
‘I kinda looked up in the air, and tears started coming down my face,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.’
When everyone outside the room realized what happened, the mother of the child ran towards the room screaming and crying.
‘I handed her son back and left as fast as I could,’ he said.
‘I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of (stuff). But I ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off.
This experience completely took a big hit into Schmitt-Matzen’s emotion. He said that he cried the entire drive back home. He even had to pull over a couple of times to compose himself.
‘I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time,’ he added.
This heartbreaking experience even made Schmitt-Matzen to consider leaving the Santa Claus image for good. But after dragging himself to few gigs and shows, he remembered why he is doing it and why he wears the Father Christmas suit every holiday season.
‘When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold,’ he said.
‘It made me realize the role I have to play.’