Christmas, a time typically brimming with joy, revolves around the spirit of gift-giving and the warmth of family gatherings. Yet, amidst the festive cheer, a poignant tale unfolded when a local Santa Claus decided to fulfill a young boy’s final wish, adding a touch of sorrow to the holiday season.
In December 2016, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer and the president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro, found himself at the center of an extraordinary request. Each year, he transforms into the beloved Christmas icon, Santa Claus, spreading joy to those around him. However, this particular year held a special, heart-wrenching mission.
Summoned by a distressing call, Schmitt-Matzen hastily made his way to a Tennessee hospital. The urgent plea came from the family of a five-year-old boy, battling an undisclosed medical condition, who harbored a fervent desire to meet Santa Claus.
In preparation for the emotionally charged encounter, Schmitt-Matzen instructed the family to remain outside the room if their emotions threatened to overwhelm the space. He recognized the importance of being the embodiment of joy for the young boy, intending to cast away his troubles, if only for a fleeting moment.
Upon entering, Santa bestowed a carefully chosen gift—a “Paw Patrol” toy, a longed-for item the child’s mother had purchased. Assisting the frail child in unwrapping the present, Schmitt-Matzen engaged in a heartfelt conversation. The child, more preoccupied with missing Christmas festivities than comprehending mortality, questioned the Santa Claus about the afterlife.
In response, Schmitt-Matzen assured the young boy that, upon reaching the pearly gates, he should declare himself “Santa’s number one elf.” Their conversation ended with the child seeking Santa’s help and, tragically, he breathed his last in Santa’s arms.
Overwhelmed with emotion, tears streaming down his face, Schmitt-Matzen left the room, the child’s mother’s anguished cries echoing in the background. This heart-wrenching encounter led him to contemplate retiring his Santa persona, haunted by the profound sadness of that moment.
However, reflecting on the impact he could have on other children’s lives, Schmitt-Matzen decided to persevere. Despite the pain, he recognized the vital role he played in bringing joy to children, reaffirming his commitment to donning the red suit when duty called.
In his own words, he expressed, “It hurts, but I’ll do it,” reaffirming the enduring power of a Santa Claus’s role in brightening the lives of those who need it most.