Eric Schmitt-Matzen has played the role of Santa Claus for years, bringing joy and laughter to children at Christmas.
But after granting a terminally ill boy a wish at a hospital recently Schmitt-Matzen could not go “Ho Ho Ho”.
A hospital had called informing him a very sick boy wanted to see him and he agreed to be there for him.
There, the professionally trained Santa could not summon the signature laughter or exude joy as he has for so many years. Santa Claus was reduced to tears.
Schmitt-Matzen told Sam Venable of the Knoxville News Sentinel, “I cried all the way home. I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.
“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.”
Venable said Schmitt-Matzen got to the hospital in 15 minutes after receiving the call and met the boy’s mother and relatives.
He quoted Shmitt-Matzen as saying, “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.’”