Once again culling information from letters and biographies, Saunders portrays Willie Lincoln as a “lovable boy” whose charm gave him the air of a small, well-mannered adult replete with a “glow of intelligence.” Indeed, the child also embodied a sense of “frankness,” a quality that played itself against his otherwise boyish habits, which often made him “wild, naughty, [and] overwrought.” In the aftermath of his death, Mary Lincoln lies “insensate” as the President groans in grief. The evenings, it seems, are hardest for Lincoln, since this is when Willie “would normally present himself for some talk or roughhousing.” Because of this, the president especially notices the loss of his child in these moments, when the day wanes and Willie is nowhere to be found.
Yet again, Saunders depicts the harrowing effects of losing a loved one, especially a small child. In doing so, he touches upon the fact that children are especially hard to say goodbye to, since they encompass so much love, care, and hope. Indeed, where does this affection go once a beloved child passes away? This question is central to Lincoln in the Bardo, as the president tries to find a way of managing his grief. By providing accounts of Willie’s personality, Saunders endears readers to the boy, thereby enabling them to empathize more pointedly with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s loss.