NASHVILLE - Rory Feek still feels married, even though his wife Joey Feek succumbed to cancer nearly a year ago. He’s never lonely and he can feel her presence in every room of their farm house. He just boarded a plane to fly to Los Angeles for Sunday’s Grammy Awards where the couple’s album “Hymns” is nominated for Best Roots Gospel Album.
Last year Joey+Rory was nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “If I Needed You.” The couple watched the show from her childhood home in Indiana -- about three weeks before Joey died. At the time, Joey made her husband promise that if they were nominated in 2017, he would go.
“It’s almost like the music is a by-product of something they love even more, which is her,” Feek said in tears, when asked about “Hymns.” The album was among country music’s top-selling in 2016. “It’s a beautiful testament to the power of a story, that a hymn record filled with songs 150 years old would do that well.”
Tuesday Feek will release his story – “This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever.” In addition to the couple’s familiar themes of faith and family, the book delves into Feek’s background before meeting his wife. He unflinchingly recounts his poor choices in earlier years with the thought process that if he’s honest about his faults, readers will find hope.
"I immediately connected to Rory because he was so willing to be real about the ups and downs in his life,” said Matt Baugher, Senior Vice President and Publisher for W Publishing Group. “Stories and people connect through authenticity, and with Rory, you get a sense that it is both suffering and joy that has made him who is today."
Feek wanted readers to know that he and his wife weren’t just a fairy tale. They had to work at their marriage and for them that started with putting God in the center of it. They fully committed to their relationship and loving each other no matter what.
“It changes what happens in the end,” he said. “Having enough time to have an amazing adventure with her, so that when it goes away, I have so much to be thankful for. I can’t be angry that I didn’t get more of something I didn’t deserve in the first place.”
Now Feek is a single parent to the couple’s almost three-year-old daughter Indiana who has Down syndrome. Following his divorce from his first wife, Feek raised their two daughters alone until he met Joey.
“The new normal is that I do everything that Joey did and some of what I used to do,” he said. “Last night I was folding laundry after a trip … and I thought about the million loads she did so I wouldn’t have to do them. And my new normal is somehow learning to be her and me both. I’m highly aware that I’m not as good at either of them. I don’t spend a lot of time regretting or wishing things were different. I’m busy making oatmeal and giving baths.”
He still hasn't touched his guitar. The barn behind their house where the couple used to tape "The Joey+Rory Show" for RFD-TV sits empty, although Feek recently told a cowboy church they could start holding service there.
Indiana is reaching new milestones at a rapid pace. The little girl is on the verge of walking and is starting to say two-syllable words and put sentences together. She communicates through sign language, often using the signs for mother and music to ask her "papa" to play her mama’s songs.
“She knows her mama’s voice immediately,” Feek said. “She’ll be playing with her doll and it’s the sweetest thing because when Joey finishes a song, she can’t help but clap and say, ‘Yay.’”
Feek struggles with understanding, “why her and not me?” He said he’s raised children before and wishes Joey could know the joy of watching their daughter grow, of feeling that powerful surge of love in the mornings when a wide smile stretched across Indiana's oatmeal-covered face.
“That’s tough,” he said. “Changing diapers and doing laundry, that’s not tough.”
Feek’s “This Life I Live” will be available Tuesday.
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, on Twitter @CindyNWatts or firstname.lastname@example.org.