The historians assert that Willie can hear the Marine Band piping out its songs as the reception progresses merrily below. As his face smolders with a fever, his parents fret over his wellbeing and their guests grow exceedingly drunk. “The terror and consternation of the Presidential couple may be imagined by anyone who has ever loved a child, and suffered that dread intimation common to all parents, that Fate may not hold that life in as high a regard, and may dispose of it at will,” writes one woman in a letter from the time. As dawn approaches, Willie’s condition takes a turn for the worse.
The idea that “Fate may not hold” a child’s life in high regard and thus “dispose of it” suggests that life and corporeal existence are fleeting. No matter how much a parent loves their child, there’s no denying the fact that everyone will someday die. Of course, what makes the Lincolns’ situation so tragic is that Willie is seemingly destined to die before them, thus forcing them to grapple with this impermanence on a more tangible and immediate level.