A man who regularly plays Santa Claus recently performed a selfless and compassionate act that left him so emotionally wrecked he thought he’d have to permanently hang up his boots, suit and hat.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, is a mechanical engineer in Knoxville, Tennessee, who doubles as Santa, oft-times donning red suspenders — or a full costume — in an effort to spread Christmas cheer.
But his long-held career as Mr. Claus almost came to an end a few weeks ago after he received a phone call from a nurse at a local hospital, asking if he would quickly rush to see a terminally-ill 5-year-old little boy who really wanted to see Santa.
“I told her, ‘OK, just let me change into my outfit.’ She said, ‘There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now,'” he recalled the nurse telling him, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
So, he rushed to the hospital. Knowing it would be an emotional experience, Schmitt-Matzen met with the boy’s family and asked that no one come into the room if they thought they would cry, as he said he, too, wouldn’t be able to hold it together. Considering their emotional state, the family watched from outside the room as “Santa” went inside.
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. 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!” Schmitt-Matzen told the News Sentinel. “He looked up and said, ‘I am?’ I said, ‘Sure!’”
That’s when he gave the boy a present and the child smiled after opening it. Then, the boy asked a heart-breaking question: “How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?” Schmitt-Matzen — still in character — responded by asking the boy to do him a big favor.
“When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s number one elf, and I know they’ll let you in,” he said.
Then, the little boy sat up and hugged Schmitt-Matzen before asking him one more question: “Santa, can you help me?” Schmitt-Matzen hugged the boy back, but quickly realized the child had died in his arms.
The family came rushing in and Schmitt-Matzen left as fast as he could, crying as he exited the hospital and drove home.
He said it took days for him to stop thinking about what had unfolded. While he served in the Army with the 75th Rangers and saw his “share of” things, he said he couldn’t help but cry his eyes out; he also wondered how doctors and nurses cope with seeing such things so regularly — and initially thought he might quit playing Santa.
In the end, though, Schmitt-Matzen realized his role brings joy to many, so he decided to continue on. Read the incredibly touching story here.
(H/T: Knoxville News Sentinel)
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