60-year-old Eric Matzen loves to play Santa Claus every year. He gets so much joy out of bringing the spirit of Christmas to so many little boys and girls. And he does it at about 80 different places each year.
One day in November, Eric, who works as a mechanical engineer in Tennessee, had just arrived home from work when his phone rang. It was a nurse at a hospital where Eric often goes when he dons the suit of the jolly old elf. But this was not a jolly call. This was urgent.
She told Eric that a little boy there was dying, and his last request was to talk to Santa… and could he please come to the hospital right away because the little boy didn’t have much time left. Eric asked for his room number and told her he would be there right away, and he hung up the phone.
About 15 minutes later, Eric arrived at the hospital as Santa and hurried through the hallways to get to the boy’s room. When he arrived at the room, the little boy’s mom was waiting just outside it. She gave Eric a toy that she had bought for him and thanked him for coming. With that, Eric entered the boy’s room and sat down on the side of his bed.
Says Eric: “He was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep.” So he asked the boy in his biggest Santa voice: “So what’s this I hear about you missing Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas… You’re my Number One elf.”
The boy’s face lit up. “I am?” he asked, looking up at Santa. “Well, of course you are,” Eric assured him, giving him the small toy his mother had given him. Then there was a pause before the boy spoke again. “They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
Eric looked into the little boy’s eyes and said, “I want you to do me a big favor. When you get there, you tell them that you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
The boy lit up again and asked, “They will?” Eric replied that they sure would. Then the little boy sat up and gave Santa a big hug, and asked him if he would help him. As Eric put his arms around the boy and before he could respond to the question, the little boy went limp, and he died in Eric’s arms. Tears began streaming down his face. The boy’s mother then ran into the room and Eric got up to let her grieve over her son. He then left the hospital as quick as he could, struggling with all of his emotions.
Says Eric: “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.”
And he continued crying on his drive all the way home. After that, he even thought about giving up his time as Santa, but some days later he made himself go to another engagement as the jolly old elf. He did it for the kids he felt he could not let down, no matter what their wishes were.