I am not, by my nature a crier. I do not cry often. For some baffling reason, I will very easily cry watching movies on the plane, but outside of that very rarely. This, however, kicked my feelings right in the fucking dick.
Reading about death is always hard, and reading about the death of a child is even harder still than that, but what really gets me right in the guts is the impact it has on the people around them and the way people are brought together, under the most tragic of circumstances.
Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen is a mechanical engineer from Tennessee who, at Christmas time, moonlights as a professional Santa Claus, and he fucking looks like one – he’s portly, he has an absolutely unbelievable (and literally award-winning) beard, and he insists on wearing suspenders at all times. His job consists of being lovely and wonderful and Santa-y to children who are either far too excited to see him or absolutely terrified of him, which in turns consists mostly of promising them that he’ll give them a pony while their parents look on mortified.
Having a child die in your arms is not something you would expect to be part of that job.
It’s what happened to Eric, though, who was called to the bedside of a terminally ill 5-year-old, who wanted to see Santa:
“I’d just gotten home from work that day. 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.‘”
After getting to the hospital within 15 minutes, Eric entered the room by himself with a gift the parents had bought for the child, after telling the family to leave the room because he knew he would start crying if he saw them cry:
“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.’“
I’m not going to bother paraphrasing any of what happened next because, well, fuck:
“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.'”
Understandably, Eric was very shaken:
“I cried all the way home. 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.”
He considered giving the gig up permanently afterwards but changed his mind after doing one more:
“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play.
“For them and for me.”
Jesus fucking Christ, my heart.
Source: USA Today.
Photo: Facebook / Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen.