A man who spreads joy as Santa Claus said he nearly gave up his calling when a terminally ill child died in his arms.
Sam Venable, a columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, recounted Eric Schmitt-Matzen’s heartbreaking encounter with the unnamed 5-year-old boy. The story was shared across social media, with people expressing their sadness and their gratitude for Santa’s kind act.
Schmitt-Matzen said he received a call from a nurse about the boy, who was close to death but wanted to see Santa. The boy’s family met with Santa and gave him a toy to give the boy, and he went into the room alone as the mother and other family members watched from outside.
Schmitt-Matzen told the boy that he couldn’t miss Christmas – he was Santa’s No. 1 elf. The boy smiled at his present, even though he was almost too weak to unwrap it.
The boy gave Santa a hug, asked, “Santa, can you help me?” and then died in his arms.
“I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told the News Sentinel. “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.”
He cried all the way home and was so upset for days after that he questioned whether he could play the part of Santa again.
Schmitt-Matzen shared the story on his Facebook page and has received many messages of support.
“Truly the example of St Nicholas” commented David Applegate, a fellow Santa. “You handled that in a phenomenal way, Eric. God bless you brother for being able to do that for that little boy. Prayers for you and his family.”
Despite his reservations, Schmitt-Matzen said he decided to do one more show as Santa. Seeing how happy he made the children “brought me back into the fold,” he said.