A terminally ill five-year-old boy died in Santa's arms after his final wish was to meet him.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen is a professional Father Christmas. He's six foot tall, weighs 310lbs, and regularly bleaches his beard to maintain its whiteness. All in all, he's as close to Santa as you could possibly get.
A few weeks ago, he received a call from a nurse at the local hospital in Knoxville, USA.
He explained to the Knoxville News Sentinel: "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 five-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'."
He managed to get to the hospital in 15 minutes where he was greeted by the child's mother. He said: "She'd bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him. 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.'"
Understandably, the little lad's family all chose to watch from the window of the Intensive Care Unit.
He explained: "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 realised 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.'"
After the visit, Eric 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 explained that he managed to play Santa one more time since: "When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realise the role I have to play.
"For them and for me."
It's stories like this which make you realise that Christmas is about enjoying time with your loved ones. RIP to this little lad.
Featured image credit: Facebook