Joey and Rory Feek: Their Touching Love Story
Restaurant owner Joey Martin met Rory Feek at a songwriter night he was playing. "I like to tell people she was stalking me," Rory joked in the pair's audition tape for Can You Duet?. Rory had already established himself as one of Nashville's biggest songwriters, having written hit songs for Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney. At the time, he was also a single father raising his two daughters, Heidi and Hopie. "It's another reason I fell in love with him," Joey remembered.
CAN THEY DUET?
The couple brought their talents together to form a duo, and competed on the first season of the CMT reality show, Can You Duet, eventually placing third. "Joey's a singer. She's got a gift," Rory said of his wife. "She opens her mouth and the world moves – at least, mine does." Joey + Rory were eventually signed to Vanguard Records as a result of the show, and launched their careers with their first single, in 2008.
RISE TO FAME
"Cheater, Cheater" eventually reached number 30 on the Billboard country charts, and earned them an ACM Award nomination for Top Vocal Duo. In 2008, the Feeks also starred in a commercial for Overstock.com. "Oh, how beautiful and full of life my sweet bride was then. We had only been married a few years and had no idea what was ahead of us – the heights we would ascend to, and the valleys we would have to cross," Rory remembered on his blog during Joey's battle with cancer.
THE JOEY + RORY SHOW
The couple released six more studio albums – including their 2011 Christmas album, A Farmhouse Christmas – and in 2012, their television show, The Joey + Rory Show, premiered on RFD-TV, and featured musical performances, recipes and glimpses into the day-to-day life of the couple and their family.
A HEARTBREAKING DIAGNOSIS
In 2014, just four months after the couple welcomed their first child – daughter Indiana, who was born with Down syndrome – Joey received the news that she had cervical cancer. As always, the couple found comfort in music and in their faith: "I can honestly say that in the six months that we've been off the road and taking a break from the music business, I haven't picked up a guitar once and Joey and I haven't sang a single song together. But when I came in the house that day and saw Joey holding Indiana in her arms, singing 'I Need Thee Every Hour…' I went into the closet, pulled out a guitar and came and sat beside her. For a half-hour straight, we held our little one and we cried and we sang these words over and over." Joey underwent a radical hysterectomy in July 2014, and while things seemed to be positive for a while, in June 2015, the couple announced that Joey's cancer had returned and spread to her colon.
AN ANSWER TO A PRAYER
As the cancer continued to spread, joey and Rory announced in October 2015 that she would stop undergoing chemotherapy. "We came home. Not to die. But to 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," Rory wrote about Joey's decision. "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. And why He is allowing this to happen." Still, despite the heartbreak, the couple were planning to enjoy every second they had left together. "The doctors gave us an estimate of how much time they believe that Joey has, and we both looked at the calendar that hangs by our kitchen door, then I took the calendar off the wall and threw in the trash can," he wrote. "So we don't have forever. We've got right now. And that's enough."
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE
Throughout her battle, Joey drew strength from her friends, fans and family, who did everything they could to support her, whether it was providing recordable books so that she could still read to baby Indiana even after she was gone, to her sisters shaving their heads in solidarity. "For better or worse. I said those words to her at the alter on June 15, 2002," Rory wrote on his blog, after Joey left the hospital and returned to the family's farmhouse in Tennessee. "But today and each day since our wedding day has been my opportunity to show her that I mean those words. And I do mean them."
In November 2015, Joey began hospice care at their home, and it was baby Indiana who helped make the transition easier. "The last couple of mornings, I've brought Indiana up here to spend time with her mama. Both of their eyes light up the moment they see each other. It's been beautiful," Rory wrote, revealing that seeing his wife and daughter spend quality time together was just as moving for him as it was for Joey. "Yesterday I sat her down in front of her mama and they smiled and played and loved each other the way that only mamas and their little ones can. Afterwards, when Indy got sleepy, Joey held her and sang 'In The Garden' and other hymns as she softly stroked her silky-blonde hair. Perfect love filled that hospital room as we all held our breath and wiped our eyes."
"TO LIVE ON"
"I want her sweet voice and her love to live on," said Rory on his blog a week after Joey began hospice care. "And not just outlive her… but to somehow outlive me, and our girls, and even their children." He added that he hopes that chronicling their lives, on their TV show and in his blog, along with Joey's difficult, heartbreaking battle with cancer, will help ensure that she is remembered long after she's gone. "And someday when your moment comes with someone you love…" he wrote, sharing a story about how his late friend Tim Johnson's own cancer fight has helped him stay strong for Joey, "Maybe, just maybe, you will remember Joey and her words and voice and life will comfort you… and her song will live on."
ONE FATEFUL DAY
During Joey and Rory's interview with PEOPLE, the 40-year-old country singer spoke about seeing her husband perform for the first time in 2002. "I was just one of dozens of people in the audience that night. From the first song Rory sang, I fell head over heels for him. I didn't even know him, but something inside me said, 'You're going to marry that man and spend the rest of your lives together.' "
CELEBRATING 'GOD'S RECORD' TOGETHER
As the couple prepared for Joey's battle with cancer to end, they learned their new album Hymns That Are Important to Us had debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Country and Contemporary Christian charts and No. 4 on the Top 200 chart in February 2016. "When the label called to give us the news I immediately took the phone in to Joey," Rory shared in a press release. "This recording was 'hers' from the beginning. This is one that she has always wanted to make, and she's worked so hard to make it happen, in spite of the difficult circumstances she is facing. As I congratulated her, she responded through tears: 'No, honey, this is God's record.'" On March 4, Joey lost her battle, Rory shared on his blog. "My wife's greatest dream came true today," he wrote. "She is in heaven."