LIFE NEWS UPDATE 12/15: It appears Schmitt-Matzen may have fabricated the story.
The season of joy has become a time of heartbreak for a Tennessee family whose 5-year-old son died several weeks ago from a terminal illness.
Just before he died, the little boy received his one final wish – a visit from Santa Claus. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Eric Schmitt-Matzen (pictured) has played Santa Claus hundreds of times, but no experience has ever been as heart-wrenching as the little boy’s.
Schmitt-Matzen said he had just arrived home from his job as a mechanical engineer when the local hospital called to ask him to make an emergency Santa trip. They told him not even to change into his full Santa suit because there was not enough time. The little boy was dying.
The Daily Mail reports Schmitt-Matzen recalled the scene at the hospital:
‘He was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,’ he said.
‘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!’
The little boy looked up at Schmitt-Matzen and his perfect Santa Claus beard and asked: ‘I am?’
Schmitt-Matzen assured the child that he was, and then gave him the toy.
‘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.’
The little boy then had a big question for Santa.
‘They say I’m gonna die,’ he told Schmitt-Matzen. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
Schmitt-Matzen then asked the little boy to do him a ‘big favor’.
‘They will?’ the child asked.
‘Sure!’ Schmitt-Matzen confidently replied.
The 5-year-old boy reached up and gave him a hug. A moment later, Schmitt-Matzen said the boy died in his arms. The little boy’s mother screamed, and he quickly handed him to her and ran out of the room, he said.
Schmitt-Matzen, a military veteran, said he cried all the way to his car and as he drove home. For weeks, he said he struggled to cope with the little boy’s death, and he even considered quitting playing Santa. The local news reports he recently agreed to play Santa one more time, and quickly realized how the role brings so much joy and laughter to children.
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“It made me realize the role I have to play,” he said. “For them and for me.”
Though the experience was traumatic, Schmitt-Matzen played an important role in the little boy’s life, reminding him and his parents that he was loved and valued.