Today Eric Schmitt-Matzen didn’t just pretend to be Santa, for one little boy he was Santa.
With his snowy bear and curly mustache, the 60-year-old mechanical engineer would make anyone believe the jolly old elf was moonlighting as a president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro, TN. He started putting on the custom red suit to spread joy and cheer to children and adults alike around the stressful holiday season. Sadly, his latest venture as the beloved St. Nick left him heavy hearted.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville Sentinel News. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.” Not only had he granted a dying boys final wish, he cradled the brave young man and wept as the child died in his arms.
Struggling through the tears, Schmitt-Matzen shared the story of the boy’s final smile,
My wife and I were scheduled to visit our grandchildren in Nashville the next day, but I told her to go by herself. I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time. Actually, I thought I might crack up and never be able to play the part again.
“I’d just gotten home from work that day. The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.
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.’
[His mother] bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him. 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.
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. 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 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.
Schmitt-Matzen was ready to retire. He didn’t think it would be possible to wear the red suit ever again, but he agreed to one final performance.
“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.”