It’s Christmas time already and of course, Santa claus’ (Father Christmas to some of us) season but even this season of happiness can be tinged with the loss of a child as the Santa Claus in this article shows.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen of Jacksboro, Tennessee is as close to a real-live Santa as you’ll find. With an authentic white beard and a big old belly that he’s quite proud of, Schmitt-Matzen (and his wife, a quite authentic Mrs. Claus) enjoy making kids smile and promising to grant their wishes. This year, however, his role as Santa Claus took on a whole new meaning for a 5-year-old little boy who was dying.
According to USA Today, Schmitt-Matzen is used to getting calls to reprise his role as Santa, but he knew immediately that the call he received several weeks ago from a nurse at a nearby hospital was different — there wasn’t even time for him to change into his suit, she told him. Without hesitating, he threw on his Santa suspenders and rushed to the boy’s bedside.
I cannot imagine the strength it takes to hold yourself together so that a child about to die isn’t scared — so that he knows everything will be okay. Mr. Schmitt-Matzen knew he would how hard it would be, so he asked anyone who was struggling to leave the room. “If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job,” he told the outlet.
Thankfully he was able to do his job, and he did it perfectly. Santa himself appeared by the boy’s bedside and handed him a Paw Patrol toy, which he opened with a smile. He was unprepared for what the boy said next, but he handled it with the grace and kindness that only Santa Claus could.
“They tell me I’m going to die,” the little boy told him. “How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
“Just tell them you’re my No. 1 elf,” Santa responded. “They will let you in.”
That comfort was all the little boy needed. The next thing he did was give Santa a hug and ask, “Can you help me?” Mr. Schmitt-Matzen said he wrapped his arms around the boy and he died right there, in his arms. Santa had helped him know that it was okay to go. His No. 1 elf would know the way.
Even though it was time for his little body to let go, understandably the boy’s mother wasn’t ready. She reportedly ran in the room, sobbing, “No! No! Not yet!” as any mother would do, not wanting to say goodbye to her baby. That’s when Santa handed the boy over to his mother, and left the room. The moment was absolutely heartbreaking to watch.
So much so that Schmitt-Matzen — an U.S. Army vet who has seen his fair share of heartache and pain — later said he wasn’t sure he could continue to dress up as Santa for terminally ill children anymore.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen shared. “I cried so much, I had a hard time seeing good enough to drive.”
Thankfully, though, he did find the strength to don his suit again. As he recently told USA Today, the children laughing gives him the ability to keep going. Because the truth is, Mr. Schmitt-Matzen transforms into Santa “for them. And for me.”
Unfortunately, not all Santa stories have happy endings. But this one, although sad, does show the magic of Christmas. It was Santa’s visit and comforting words that gave this boy, too tired to live another day, the courage to go on. He died in Santa’s arms, and is now at peace — hopefully enjoying being Santa’s number one elf.