This was not the first time that Devorie Kreiman had lost a child. She had already lost four children as babies and was well-versed in grief.

But the babies had been sick, and she’d been told they wouldn’t live; this time it was Yossi, a healthy 23-year-old, her firstborn, six weeks and two days before his wedding.

Would she be able to survive without Yossi?

In conversation with Chana Weisberg, Devorie relates her harrowing journey from the tragedy of Yossi’s passing to the comforting awareness that—even without a physical presence—he is still very much a part of her life.

I always seem to launch my story with “the babies.” The truth is, it really begins earlier when, as a young kallah (bride) – all of eighteen! – I dream of building a large religious family with the exceptional young man I’m about to marry.

Less than four years later, the dream is becoming a reality. When Yossi, my oldest, has his Upsherin (first haircut) at the age of three, he has two sisters under him.

And before long there’s a fourth child on the way. I’m excited, but nervous. I tell my husband, Nachman, that I don’t know how I’ll cope with caring for a baby in addition to my three little ones.

They say you shouldn’t tempt fate.

Devorie never found out what it would be like to have a new baby in the house; her infant son was too weak to leave the hospital and died when he was three and a half months old.

The doctors did not expect it to happen again.

Another baby followed … and so did the same symptoms, and then an early death.

Doctors … tests … a diagnosis. Nachman and Devorie learned that they share a rare genetic mutation that put their babies at risk of being born without the enzyme that produces energy. And yet, with the chances of having a sick child standing at (only) 25 percent, the Kreimans chose to have more children.

Another baby was born, and this time it was healthy!

Then two more, who were sick and died.

In a matter of ten years, Devorie lost half her children and, still in her early thirties, knew she could not have any more.

A Family, Nonetheless

The loss of one baby … the loss of two, three, four babies. Sadness rages inside. My arms feel woefully empty and my heart is bereft. At the same time, I am mindful that I have four healthy children and acknowledge that my task is now to care for them. They need to have a happy childhood, untainted by our grief over their departed siblings.

And it is happy! There is joy and laughter in our house, and although there is pain in our hearts, we are thrilled to see our children thrive.

Two of my daughters get married, and then it is Yossi’s turn.

My Yossi … so smart, talented and funny. So warm and sensitive. And soon he’s engaged to be married to a lovely girl from New York. I’m counting down the days.

In the meantime, though, we continue our lives. Yossi is introduced to scuba diving and he loves it. He’s not a risk-taker, but he loves nature and is enraptured by the underwater world.

Early on a Friday morning, Yossi announced he was going to the ocean again. Devorie wasn’t overly concerned, especially since he said he’d be home in time to make the cholent for Shabbat lunch … and Yossi made excellent cholent.

Yossi never made that cholent and neither did Devorie.

She was too numb to open her book of Psalms as she slumped in the back of the car that sped them to the hospital. She was aware that Nachman was speaking to the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) as they drove, but she remained in denial. No, it couldn’t be that anything had happened to Yossi … G‑d had taken her four sick children and left her with four who were healthy. He was one of the healthy children, and healthy children live.

And—if G‑d needed any more “convincing”—Yossi was a chatan (groom), he had a wedding to attend.

Weddings? Who was talking about weddings? Not the doctor or the social worker who came to meet them and took them into a small, private room.

“We did everything we could … we’re very sorry.”

What Now?

People wonder if I am better able to cope with Yossi’s death because I’d had children who died before, but they don’t have a clue. I hadn’t “known” the babies; I’d loved them because I was their mother. I cradled them and sang to them, but I’d known our connection would be fleeting.

Yossi was my bochur (firstborn) … my pride and joy … my close friend … my hopes and dreams. Then, with a beautiful future seemingly assured, he suddenly disappeared into the relentless waves.

And I never even had the chance to say goodbye.

In the months after Yossi’s death, Devorie was wracked by grief, despair, and questions. She had already suffered the staggering loss of the babies, and yet she hadn’t complained. Why was she being tested again?

It all felt so unfair! She looked at the large healthy families of those around her, and her jealousy raged unabated.

The product of a religious home … the Principal of a Chabad school … an emissary of the Rebbe … Devorie did not like what was happening to her. Was she to be trapped in the darkness forever?

A Glimmer of Light

Devorie may have had questions, but thanks to her solid upbringing she also had access to their answers. At no time, even in her darkest days, did she doubt that G‑d controls everything in this world and seeks only her good. Her soul knew it, even though her present state of consciousness was finding it impossible to accept for now.

For now – but not for always. The soul is infinitely powerful and, as the weeks, months and even years passed, it would break through the darkness and expose the light.

There is no sudden rush of brightness. But I am not only a physical being, and I eventually concede to the pleas of my soul to tap into its wealth. Faint flickers of light illuminate my melancholy, and the darkness begins to lift as I embark on the journey to “recovery.”

It is a journey that I take alone; everyone must instigate their own recovery when they are ready to do so. We can’t be told by others when and how to “travel.”

Even so, it’s not a journey I can take unaided. I try different types of therapy and reap much benefit. I am especially grateful to the creative therapist who enables me to clear my head from my dismal feelings. The dark image of my drowning son is replaced by fresh, clear pictures of a smiling, vibrant Yossi.

I begin to feel that I can have my Yossi back. As the blackness slowly starts to recede, I connect with him in an almost tangible way.

Affirming Joy

As Devorie began to emerge from her darkness, she became exceedingly grateful that she had received a Chassidic education that would eventually provide her with the tools to cope with her grief. (Even If I’m Not became the title of a masterful book that Devorie wrote years later; the Chassidic teachings were there waiting for her, though she was not yet ready to imbibe them).

And when that time came—and it didn’t come all at once—those teachings gave her the perspective she needed. Although she had learned and taught so many uplifting thoughts to others, she now had to live them and make them her own.

The eternality of the soul—something I’d always accepted—took on an entirely different meaning when I applied it to Yossi. Yossi was still my son, and I was still his mother. We had changed locations, but our relationship remained.

The more I opened myself to the greatness of Chassidut, the more I realized that my life hadn’t “ended” as I thought it had. I would still have a meaningful life, and it would not be devoid of happiness. A chassid knows that a meaningful life is synonymous with joy.

And there is joy! I have an outstanding husband … beautiful daughters … and when I become a Bubby (grandmother) I am overcome with a sense of delight that I have never known before.

As well as this, I become a motivational speaker and an author so that I can share my experiences with others, and this gives me much pleasure and satisfaction.

There is no arguing that G‑d created this world for man to find joy. I turn the corner in my journey, and I know I will survive.

An Ongoing Journey

Devorie has turned the corner, but she will never come “home” because the trauma of Yossi’s death can never be uprooted entirely.

But that misses the point.

The 13-year journey since Yossi’s passing has been a rough and rocky ride, strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. There were times when the journey appeared too difficult to follow, and she was tempted to sink to the ground and give up.

But Devorie continued nonetheless, and found that she was still able to do something—even something small—to lift her spirits and give her the will and merit to carry on. A kind word to her husband … a favor for a friend … a nice smile for a stranger; there were ways to radiate light, even when so much of her life seemed dark.

She has been—and remains—on a journey she would never have chosen, but it is not a journey without purpose. Indeed, she will be the first to admit that the journey, with all its tribulations, has strengthened her many attributes and implanted new ones she didn’t have before.

Devorie also acknowledges that her success (which she insists is only partial) is due to the power of the soul, the positive inner force that overpowers our outer negativity (if only we allow it to).

She is not the same person as she was before, but she is upbeat and smiley and has made herself comfortable in the new reality she has created since Yossi died.

And while she cannot know why Yossi died, she understands—as much as any human can—that this is the way G‑d intended it to be.


Throughout her tragic losses, Devorie took to journaling as a way of preserving her memories of the children that she’d lost. After Yossi’s death, she stepped up her journaling, and—in addition to stories about Yossi—started to include a record of her feelings, reactions and experiences.

Many years later, by which time Devorie was a well-known motivational speaker, people asked her for a lengthier version of her speeches in the form of a book.

The book had already been written! Going back to her journal, she realized that her account of coping with tragedy—written at the time it occurred—would impact her readers far more poignantly than anything she could write years later.

The publication of Even If I’m Not in 2022 proved that she was right.