As Willie sits “stock-still, eyes very wide” inside his father, Saunders describes (once again using historical excerpts) the boy’s burial, giving a brief overview of the funeral. One attendee remembers approaching the president after the service and offering his condolences. “[Lincoln] did not seem to be listening,” this attendee writes. “His face lit up with dark wonder. Willie is dead, he said, as if it had only just then occurred to him.”
For clarity’s sake, it’s worth remembering that the historical excerpts Saunders employs usually follow the same contours as the plot itself. As such, when Lincoln thinks about his son’s death and funeral, the excerpts run parallel to his reflections. This is significant because Willie bears witness to his father’s thoughts in this moment, so if Saunders includes an excerpt in which Lincoln says, “Willie is dead,” that means the president most likely is thinking about something along these lines, thereby finally revealing to Willie that he is no longer alive.