Tragic Story About Boy Dying in Santa's Arms Will Make You Want to Hug a Santa

Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen/Facebook

Most of the time, stories about the people who dress up as Santa to bring joy to little kids are, like, happy and uplifting. But not this time: A professional Santa from Tennessee shared his story about a 5-year-old boy dying in his arms, and it's sad. Really, really, really sad. Like, Santa crying at a nurses station sad.


Here's what happened: Professionally trained Santa Claus Eric Schmitt-Matzen was contacted by a friend of his who works in a hospital in Tennessee. She told him there was a terminally ill boy in the ICU who asked to see Santa Claus. He had to come right away, she said -- there wasn't even time for him to change into his full outfit.

When he got there, the nurse gave him a toy to bring the boy and told him to go into the room. He went in alone because no one else could trust themselves not to cry.

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Here's what Schmitt-Matzen said happened next, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel:

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.

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We know. It's heartbreaking. Schmitt-Matzen said it was hard for him to do his normal tour of events after this experience, but at least he was able to give this little boy exactly what he needed before he passed away. 

Our thoughts go out to everyone involved, but to the boy's family especially. Hopefully, they can take peace in knowing he died happily -- in Santa's arms.

Update: On December 14, the Knoxville News Sentinel published a statement saying they could not verify all of Schmitt-Matzen's story, partly because Schmitt-Matzen refused to share the identity of the boy and his family to protect his identity. "The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen's account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate," it wrote. Schmitt-Matzen responded in a text message to Time and said, "I tried to do a good deed, was talked into telling the story of what happened to me ... and now the press is ridiculing me for standing my ground."

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