Eric Schmitt-Matzen love meeting children at Christmas time, but a recent visit with a 5-year-old boy left him heartbroken and will stay with him forever. The 80-year-old professional Santa Claus is recounting his heartbreaking visit with a terminally-ill boy, who died in his arms.
Recently, Eric received a call from a nurse making a special request. Would he come and visit a terminally ill child who wanted to see Santa? He agreed and told her he would change into his full outfit first, but she told him there wasn’t time and that his Santa suspenders would be good enough – “come right now”.
When he arrived at hospital the boy’s mother gave him a toy present to give to her son. He looked around the room and had a request of his own. He asked if they could leave the room if they thought they would cry, because if he saw them crying, he would break down and not be able to do his job.
The boy’s family watched him through the window as Eric approached the boy, who was so weak he looked like he was ready to fall asleep, Eric recounts.
“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 said the boy looked at him and asked ‘I am?’ before taking the toy. The boy smiled at Eric and said, ‘They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’ He told the boy “when you get there, you tell them you’re Santa’s number one elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
The boy then gave Eric a hug and asked ‘Santa, can you help me?’ before passing away in his arms. Eric continued to hug him as his parents realized what had happened and quickly left the room when they came in so they could be alone with their son.
Eric told Cincinnati.com the visit deeply affected him. “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.” He cried on his drive home too. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.”
The experience so shook him he considered giving up working as Santa Claus. But after seeing some children laughing he believes he still has a role to play.