"We all felt as though we were close to her," Bill Gaither tells PEOPLE

By Melody Chiu and Nick Maslow
Updated March 10, 2016 06:45 PM
Credit: Courtesy Joey+Rory

On Tuesday, Rory Feek said his final goodbye to his beloved wife Joey surrounded by their closest family, friends and neighbors at the family’s Pottsville, Tennessee farm.

“It was tearful, but it was optimistic, especially being on the dirt,” the couple’s close friend Bill Gaither tells PEOPLE exclusively. “She was part of the earth. We all felt as though we were close to her.”

Joey’s casket was placed on a horse-drawn carriage and Rory spoke about his wife at the memorial service before she was buried. “Singers were performing ‘Let’s Go Down to the River to Pray,'” says Gaither. “It was just a sweet Tennessee mountain moment. Very positive things were said at the gravesite.”

While Rory is heartbroken after losing his wife to terminal cancer on Friday, he is also staying strong for their 2-year-old daughter Indiana. “I talked to him last night about the service, and I said, ‘First, Rory – how are you doing?’ and he said, ‘Well, I took Indiana to the school this morning to enroll her.'”

Continued Gaither: “He said, ‘This is the first day of the rest of my life. I have responsibilities.’ I think that’s pretty special. [He’s thinking], ‘What is the next step?'”

Gaither, who is a gospel music writer and has been close to Joey’s family for decades, also reflected on the couple’s inspiring relationship. “They’ve been married only 15 years, but I think they would say 15 great, fantastic years,” he says. “I look at people who have been married 50 or 60 years and I say, ‘What would they give for 15 great years out of the 50 or 60?'”

A public memorial in Joey’s hometown of Alexandria, Indiana will be held Sunday in the Alexandria-Monroe High School Gymnasium, where Joey’s family and Rory will likely speak. “It’s a special way for the family to say thanks to the community and for the community to love on the family,” says Gaither.

According to a statement provided to PEOPLE, the Feeks have asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Joey and Indy at PO Box 5471, Vancouver, WA 98668.