Before Joey Feek lost her brave battle with cancer in March, she and husband Rory shared an affirmation that couples tell each other every day. But for the country singing duo – known as Joey+Rory – those simple little words have a greater significance.
“We repeated ‘I love you’ three times to each other,” Rory, 51, tells PEOPLE of his 40-year-old wife’s final words to him. “It’s the last line of a song I wrote years ago called ‘Josephine,’ an imaginary love story between a husband and wife.”
“For most all of our marriage – in the birthday, Valentine’s Day, or anniversary cards we gave each other and before we went to bed – we have always said the same thing,” he says in this week’s issue.
For an in-depth look at the Feeks’ life now, watch People Features: Rory Feek which will debut on Sept. 15 on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN), launching Sept. 13. Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.
Six months after Joey’s death, Rory is giving his wife the ultimate tribute: To Joey, With Love, a documentary appearing in select cities Sept. 20 and Oct. 6. Rory has worked on the project at the couple’s farm in Pottsville, Tennessee, where his older daughters from a previous marriage – Heidi, 29, and Hopie, 27 – love up 2½-year-old Indiana, Rory’s daughter with Joey.
“Just like she did for Joey, Indy makes me laugh a lot,” Rory tells PEOPLE of their little girl, who was born with Down syndrome months before Joey’s cervical cancer diagnosis in 2014. “She’s the child we were meant to have.”
However, the couple struggled with accepting reality when Joey’s cancer took a turn for the worse in October.
[Joey] just couldn’t bear the idea that she was going to leave me a single parent again because I’d already been through it. She told me right on the porch out there,” Rory says, his eyes filling with tears. “She said, ‘It’s not fair. You’re not supposed to have to do this again.’ I said, ‘But on the other hand, I’m perfect. I already know how.'”