Excerpts from historical texts and letters indicate the nation’s response to Willie’s death, showing that many believe the boy’s illness could have been avoided if his parents had taken proper care of him. “Why, some asked, was a child riding a pony about in the pouring rain, without a coat?” writes one observer, commenting on the fact that Willie was allowed to do whatever he wanted, especially in the weeks leading up to his sickness. Another (more sympathetic) commentator notes, “When a child is lost there is no end to the self-torment a parent may inflict. When we love, and the object of our love is small, weak, and vulnerable, and has looked to us and us alone for protection; and when such protection, for whatever reason, has failed, what consolation (what justification, what defense) may there possibly be? None. Doubt will fester as long as we live.”
The idea that “doubt will fester as long” as Lincoln lives recalls the ways that the Bardo-dwellers latch onto certain strong emotions—emotions that ultimately keep them in this transitional realm. Indeed, regret is a potent feeling, one that isn’t easy to let go of, especially if someone feels guilty for not having properly cared for a loved one. In the same way that Roger Bevins regrets having taken his life and thus cannot move on, Lincoln doubts the “protection” he provided Willie, ultimately letting this regret “fester” in him and impede upon his ability to grieve and then push forward in life.