"We don't want to be separate for one minute," the country singer said of her marriage to Rory

By Nick Maslow
Updated November 13, 2015 04:05 PM
Fred Hayes/Getty

Life is imitating art for Joey and Rory Feek, who have been open about her brave battle with terminal cancer.

In 2012, the husband and wife known as country duo Joey + Rory, released “When I’m Gone,” a heartbreaking song that reads like a love letter from a woman approaching death to the man she loves.

“You’ll lie down in our big bed, dread the dark and dread the dawn,” Joey sings in their ballad. “But you’ll be alright on that first night when I’m gone.”

“I was devastated, absolutely devastated when I heard it and what it meant and coming from the person who is leaving their loved one,” Joey told The Boot in 2012. “That concept was just something that I had never heard or thought of before and it really struck me.”

Three years later, Joey knows exactly what the lyrics mean. She entered hospice last week after her health crisis took a turn for the worst. Despite a treatment plan that has included surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, Joey was told that her cancer was “aggressively spreading” in late October, prompting the couple to head home to their farmhouse in Pottsville, Tennessee, and make the most of the time she has left.

“Not to die. But to live,” explained Rory on his blog This Life I live. “To put our hands in each others and sit out on the back porch and watch the sun set as our sweet little baby girl plays on a blanket in front of us. To bask in the glory of the beautiful life He’s blessed us with, and try not to question why we can’t have more of it together.”

Joey and Rory’s inspiring marriage started on June 15, 2002, about two months after the aspiring vocalist and former Marine met.

“Not to make you sick or nothing, but Rory and I are best friends,” she said with a laugh in an interview with Country Standard Time in 2010. “We got into this relationship and got married right away. It was just one of those things where we knew that we were supposed to be together and every minute of our lives have been a blessing.”

Joey continued, “Sure, there’s the first year or two of marriage that you’re adapting, and Rory had two teenage daughters so it was a transition, but we were so happy five years into our marriage, and then this happened.”

The brunette beauty was referring to their big break on CMT’s Can You Duet, a Nashville singing competition on which they landed third place in 2008. The show catapulted Joey out of the kitchen at Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse (her restaurant with her sister-in-law Marcy Gary) and Rory out of the songwriter’s room and into the spotlight. Soon, they were releasing new music, performing across the country and being recognized by their country music peers at big award shows. Even though they were equals, Rory praised Joey’s talent every step of the way.

“I don’t think it would have occurred to us to sing together,” he told CMT in 2008. “It’s sort of obvious why: She’s beautiful and she’s so talented in her own right. She has such an amazing voice, she doesn’t really need anything else with her.”

He added, “I may be a really good songwriter, but I wouldn’t add any star appeal.”

As they climbed the ladder of success together, Joey and Rory never lost touch of their down-home roots.

“Our perfect date night is making a campfire and cooking steaks over the fire and having a glass of wine and decompressing,” she told Country Standard Time in 2010. “But we don’t want to be separate for one minute. After eight years of marriage, I think that says something.”

With stardom under their belts, Joey and Rory set their sights on the ultimate journey: parenthood. She gave birth to Indiana, their now 20-month-old baby on Feb. 17, 2014. Rory’s adult daughters Heidi and Hopie were right by their side as the couple welcomed their bundle of joy.

“Joey says that giving birth at home was the single greatest thing she’s ever experienced in her life,” Rory wrote in a post titled “Our Special Gift from Above.” “A moment later, with Indiana’s first cry, we all cried tears of joy and hugged and celebrated and cried some more.”

The Feeks soon discovered their daughter has Down syndrome.

“Although that news came at first as a surprise to us, Joey and I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” wrote Rory. “During the pregnancy, we never did an ultrasound, or saw a doctor, nor would it have made any difference if we had. We trusted that God would give us the baby He wanted us to have … and He has. Out of all the parents in the world, He has chosen us to care for and raise this special gift.”

Just a few months later, the new mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer and underwent a radical hysterectomy, they announced in late June. Now with stage-4 cancer, Joey has been told that additional treatment cannot cure her.

“So we don’t have forever,” Rory wrote on Oct. 23. “We’ve got right now. And that’s enough.”