*When Eric Schmitt-Matzen, whose 310-pound frame is very much like “Santa,” was asked to visit a terminally ill boy in the role. A character he happily portrays for 80 events each year, this particular gig was one that would have him consider resigning.
The little boy died in his arms.
He had arrived at the hospital where the child’s very emotional family was waiting. They knew the boy was close to the end because he was very frail and weak. But he was still hanging on.
Sensing their fragile emotional state, Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel…
“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.’ ”
Is it any surprised he entered the room alone.
Space does not allow inclusion of the numerous pauses he took while struggling to maintain composure:
“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!
“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“I gave him the present.” (Santa had taken it from the child’s mother, who had brought it with her). “He was so weak,” Santa continues. “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 right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.
“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 ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.’”
Heartbroken, Schmitt-Matzen was ready to hang up his suit thinking. “I’m just not cut out for this.”
What happened to change his mind?
Eyes red from crying, Eric Schmitt-Matzen describes the emotional experience in this heartbreaking video.