Some people might call this a Christmas story with a not so happy ending, but I call it a wonderful ending for a little boy who saw Santa. In Knoxville, Tenn. — Eric Schmitt-Matzen looks every bit the part of Santa Claus. His 6-foot frame carries 310 pounds, leaving “just enough of a lap for the kids to sit on,” he says with a gentle smile and chuckle.
No fake facial hair. Schmitt-Matzen’s snowy beard is the real thing, although regularly bleached to maintain its whiteness. His beard is so spectacular, in fact, it won first place in the “natural full beard, styled mustache” division of a 2016 national contest sponsored by the Just For Men hair products company.
USA TODAY reports:
He’s professionally trained. Custom-tailored in red. Was born on Dec. 6 (that’s Saint Nicholas Day — are you surprised?) Works approximately 80 gigs annually. Wife Sharon plays an authentic Mrs. Claus. His cellphone, with a Jingle Bells ringtone, continually counts down the days until Christmas. Even his civilian attire always includes Santa suspenders.
He spreads joy and fun everywhere he goes so it seems; except for the role he played several weeks ago at a local hospital.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “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.”
This is what happens when a terminally ill child dies in Santa’s arms.
“I’d just gotten home from work that day,” recalled Schmitt-Matzen, 60, a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro.
“The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.
“I told her, ‘OK, just let me change into my outfit.’ She said, ‘There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.’ ”
‘Santa’ got to the hospital in 15 minutes. He met the lad’s mother and several family members.
“She’d bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him,” he said, in a husky voice. “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.’ ”
Nobody entered with him. They watched, sobbing, from a hallway window in the Intensive Care Unit.
“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.”
I think this Santa came to terms with the the real meaning of Christmas is love and giving. True giving like the gift God named Emanuel. Which means GOD WITH US.
Let’s give thanks for what we have and remember the reason for the season is Jesus Christ who gave his son to be born in a manger, live as a man, die on a cruel cross as a substitute for forgiveness of sins. Merry Christmas.