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A star fades gracefully

Joey and her daughter Indiana (Facebook)

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Joey and Rory at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas

Lifestyle

A star fades gracefully

Amid terminal cancer, a country musician couple thanks God for life

Many music stars wonder what they’ll wear to the Grammy Awards ceremony on Feb. 15. Joey Martin Feek of the Grammy-nominated country music duo Joey+Rory wonders whether she’ll be alive.

The husband-and-wife team in 2012 released “When I’m Gone,” the song of a dying wife who encourages her grieving husband and family. Then the song came true: Two years later, soon after the birth of their daughter Indiana, Joey learned she had cervical cancer. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy followed, but cancer won and Joey entered hospice care in October, with a forecast of six to nine months to live.

Joey, 40, said in December that she hoped to survive to see the release of the Joey+Rory hymns album on Feb. 12, the Grammys, and Indiana’s second birthday on Feb. 17.

Joey and Rory first broke on the scene with their charming 2008 album The Life of a Song, which crackled with humor, sass, and finger-lickin’ good musical chops. Joey’s silver-threaded voice mingled with Rory’s tangy harmonies to serve up pithy commentary on life and the music business. Opening track “Play the Song” employed a bluesy country-shuffle to poke fun at music label executives who worry and nitpick, “It’s too fast, it’s too slow / it’s too country, too rock and roll / it’s too happy, too sad, too short, or it’s way too long / Yeah and it’s too bad they don’t just play the song!”

The execs needn’t have worried. Joey and Rory quickly captured the ears of critics and fans alike with witty and winsome songs that combined modern sensibilities with an unabashed love of classic country values like hard work, rugged independence, love of nature, and respect for family and faith. Joey’s embrace of traditional female roles in “That’s Important to Me” bordered on downright countercultural when she crooned, “Having somebody to share my life / loving my husband and being a wife / and being the very best mother I can be / That’s important to me.”

‘We will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.’ —Rory Feek

December’s surprise Grammy nomination was for the couple’s performance of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The music video shows the couple readying for the birth of Indiana, who was later diagnosed with Down syndrome. On his blog, This Life I Live, Rory explained: “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.”

The couple’s moving story and transparent blogging have attracted media attention from across the country. In one post, next to pictures of Joey’s emaciated body and loss of hair, Rory reflected, “Though now, she can no longer get out of bed … you would think she’s her normal self. Thinner. Much thinner. And with a hip new hairdo. But she is beautiful. So so so beautiful. When God begins to take the light from the outside … the light inside just shines all that much brighter.”

Rory, 50, has captured moments of grace in the darkness: “The last day Joey walked, I took her in my arms in the living room and once more put her hand in mine and we danced. She steadied with her cane and I softly moved her across the room singing George Strait’s ‘You Look So Good in Love’ in her ear. In the middle of the song though, as I was being careful not to step on her toes—she stopped and looked up at me and said, ‘How about if I lead?’ And I followed her lead as we slowly two-stepped on her mama’s living room floor.”

Rory called the season’s first snow “manna from heaven,” because it brought comfort during one of Joey’s darkest moments. “I want to raise our baby,” she had cried. “I want to be the one to teach her.” Yet the sight of snow shot a bolt of light into Joey’s heart as she admitted, “I didn’t think I’d get to see snow again.” She then raised her eyes upward and said, “If this is the last snow I ever see, thank you, Jesus.”

For now it’s one day at a time. Christmas was a treasured milestone. Rory wrote, “The prognosis was clear that there was a good chance Joey wasn’t going to be with us” for the holidays. But Christmas Day came and a smiling Joey celebrated with the family—what Rory called “the best gift of all.” He wrote, “We will continue to believe and trust that what is waiting on the other side of the deep, dark wood is something even better and more beautiful than our minds can even imagine.”