Just two years ago, Joey and Rory Feek, better known as Joey + Rory, were on the top of the world. With their traditional sound, the award-winning country duo had carved out a niche for themselves in Nashville and released a number of popular albums. They lived on a beautiful farm in Tennessee, co-owned a restaurant, and had their own TV show. Their daughter, Indiana, had just been born. Though her Down syndrome diagnosis was unexpected, they welcomed her with joy.
Then Joey was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and their world was shaken.
Joey lived less than two years after her diagnosis, but she and her family filled those years with memorable moments and experiences, documented by Rory on his blog, This Life I Live. Rory’s new film, To Joey, with Love, tells the story of those final two years together. The film releases in movie theaters on September 20, and again on October 6, through Fathom Events.
I interviewed Rory about the film.
What gave you the idea to make a movie about Joey?
A few weeks after Joey's funeral service, I started going through all the footage that we had filmed over the last two and a half years, and it became immediately clear that what we had captured was more than just a bunch of home movies. Just like the story that Joey and I had been living and sharing through my blog, there was an even more powerful story in those clips that needed to be shared.
Joey was obviously a wonderful mother to Indiana, yet you say in your narration that she was afraid at first to become a mother. Where did those fears come from?
She had never really been around babies or children and didn’t really have any desire to be. It wasn’t in her DNA, or at least she didn’t think it was. All of it scared her: being pregnant, childbirth, being a mother; the responsibility, the work, the commitment. Once she turned her fears over to God, though, he did what he always seems to do: He turned her greatest fear into her greatest joy.
Joey comes across as very strong, calm, and peaceful throughout her ordeal. Clearly her faith gave her strength, and she wanted to keep the baby feeling safe and happy. But were there ever moments of doubt and despair for her?
She had moments of being confused, of not understanding why she wasn’t getting better and wondering why God was letting life happen the way that he was. But I don’t think she was ever angry or filled with despair. Her faith was incredibly strong and childlike. Even on days that were disappointing or scary, she believed that “this is the day the Lord has made.” I did too. I still do.
You have some deeply personal, emotional footage. Was it difficult or healing to go through it all for this movie?
It was incredibly healing for me to go through all the footage that we had captured and see our lives unfold again—in real time—right in front of me. I needed to see my wife healthy and happy and filled with life the way she had always been before the final days and weeks when cancer had taken so much from her. It was hard to watch at times. It still is. But it’s a good kind of hard—the kind that makes happy and beautiful tears flow and keeps Joey’s memory and heart alive, long after her body is laid to rest.
You say that those who followed Joey’s journey saw “something extraordinary in the ordinary choices she was making.” Can you try to define what that something was?
It’s not easy in today’s culture to choose to simplify and choose less over more. To spend the time growing a garden—plowing, planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting—when Kroger is so close and easy. To do the million little things that made her life harder but richer each and every day. It’s one thing to do it when you’re healthy and life is good. It’s another thing to do it when you’re sick and you know you’re not going to get better. The greatest example for me is Joey’s choice to make Indy more [part of] my life and less [of] hers during the final months, to ease our baby’s pain of separation from her mama. That’s an easy thing to say you would like to do, but it takes an incredible amount of true love and selflessness to follow through on. But Joey did it. What was important to her when we met was just as important to her when we held hands and said goodbye to each other.
What do you want the viewers to take away from this movie?
I just want to share [the film]—to share my wife and her incredible courage and love and hope. My hope would be that the story is an encouragement to others in their journey.
To Joey, with Love is your second foray into filmmaking. [Rory previously wrote and directed the independent film Josephine, which premiered at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival.] Are you hoping to do more of it in the future?
I’d like to think that I will, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I have no specific plans for the future, but I trust that God will open the door or reveal the path that I am supposed to walk down when the time is right.