Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a 60-year-old Santa Claus impersonator, received a heartbreaking call from a hospital nurse.
He told ABC News: “She goes, ‘There’s a little guy that’s about ready to pass. And he’s more concerned about missing Christmas than he is about dying,'” Schmitt-Matzen recalled.
Schmitt-Matzen didn’t have to think twice about the request. He donned his costume and went out to the hospital.
“I met the parents and relatives down the hall. I said, ‘If anybody feels like they’re going to lose it, please wait in the hall because I’ve got to be happy and jovial.
“If anybody starts to cry, please do run out the hallway because I can’t do my job,'” Schmitt-Matzen explained.
In the end, he entered the room alone.
Eric told USA Today: “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 a 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.”
It was a toy from the TV show “PAW Patrol” the boy’s mother purchased and wrapped beforehand.
Schmitt-Matzen continued: “‘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 to them Pearly Gates, 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.”
Deeply affected by the heartbreaking tragedy, Schmitt-Matzen considered hanging up his suit for good.
“I’m just not cut out for this,” he believed.
“I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time,” he told the News-Sentinel. “Actually, I thought I might crack up and never be able to play the part again.”
As he considered retiring from the Santa Claus business, he saw children laughing and playing.
“It made me realize the role I have to play. For them and for me,” he admitted.
Schmitt-Matzen told the BBC, “It’s still tough to relive… [But] if somebody calls I’ll do it. It hurts, but I’ll do it.”