A professional Santa said he almost hung up his suit for good after a heart-wrenching experience at a child’s death bed.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 61, of Caryville, Tennessee, usually walks away from his gigs with a big smile and fulfilled heart. He’s been making children smile as Father Christmas for 9 years now and seeing those happy faces is his favorite part of his job.
“They’re all so excited,” Schmitt-Matzen told.
But after a recent encounter, he said he was left with tears — so much so that he had trouble driving home.
“I had to stop a few times because I couldn’t see where I was going,” he said.
Schmitt-Matzen received an urgent call from a nurse at the local hospital.
“She goes, ‘There’s a little guy that’s about ready to pass. And he’s more concerned about missing Christmas than he is about dying,'” he recalled, noting that he went to the hospital as soon as he could.
“I met the parents and relatives down the hall. I said, ‘If anybody feels like they’re going to lose it, please wait in the hall because I’ve got to be happy and jovial. If anybody starts to cry, please do run out the hallway because I can’t do my job,'” Schmitt-Matzen said.
No one managed to follow him into the room, Schmitt-Matzen said, adding that he didn’t want to divulge details of the hospital or the boy’s illness to protect the privacy of the family and the nurse who called him.
“What’s this I hear, you think you’re going to miss Christmas?” he asked the 5-year-old boy. He nodded and Schmitt-Matzen told him, “No way. The elves had this present made for you for a very a long time ago.”
Schmitt-Matzen gave the boy the present his parents prepared for him. He said the boy needed help unwrapping the paper but smiled when he saw the present.
When a Family called me to the bedside of there sick son this is what happened:
“When I walked in, he was lying there, so weak that he seemed ready to sleep. I sat 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!
“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“I gave him the present. 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.
‘“They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me.
‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
“I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor?’
“He said, ‘Sure!’
“When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.
“He said, ‘They will?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question:
‘Santa, can you help me?’
“I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died instantly. I let him stay, hug him and hold him tight.
“Everyone outside the room realized what happened. His mother ran in. She was screaming, ‘No, no, not yet!’ I handed her son back and left as fast as I could.
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of (stuff). But I passed the nurses’ station and shouted my head. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I do not know how.’”
In despair, Schmitt-Matzen was ready to hang up his suit.
“I’m just not cut out for this,” he reasoned.
But he mustered the strength to work one more show.
“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play.
“For them and for me.”