It’s the most touching story you’ll read all year.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen via Twitter
There’s something spectacular about the way a child’s eyes light up when they see Santa Claus. That must be why Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer in Tennessee, grows out his beard and plays Kris Kringle at 80 events a year. His white beard is so incredible that it won best “natural full beard, styled mustache” in Just For Men’s 2016 national contest. Schmitt-Matzen loves playing Santa to help spread holiday cheer, but this year, he learned the true power of Santa Claus when he was called to the bedside of a terminally-ill boy.
“I’d just gotten home from work that day,” Schmitt-Matzen, 60, told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick five-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.” Schmitt-Matzen didn’t have enough time to put on his red suit, so he threw on Santa suspenders and sped to the hospital.
When Schmitt-Matzen entered the ICU, he found the boy’s family and the mother handed him a wrapped toy. “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,’ ” Schmitt-Matzen said. When he walked in the room, the boy looked as if he was about to fall asleep. “Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas?” Schmitt-Matzen said in his jolly Santa voice. “There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you’re my Number One elf!” The weak boy looked up at the man in the long, white beard and asked him, “I am?”
SAnta Claus handed the boy the present and he struggled with the wrapping paper, but eventually peeled away enough to see it was a toy from the “PAW Patrol” TV show. The boy flashed the largest smile he could muster and then laid his head on this pillow to rest. ‘They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?” he asked Santa. “When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in,” Santa said. The boy sat up, hugged Santa with all of the strength left in his little body, and asked, “Santa, can you help me?” And before Schmitt-Matzen could respond, the boy passed away in his arms.
After his encounter with the boy, Schmitt-Matzen cried so hard he could barely see the road on his drive home. After the boy died in his arms, he didn’t believe he could ever put on the red suit again. “I’m just not cut out for this,” he thought to himself. But he pulled it together for one more event. “When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play,” he realized. “For them and for me.”