Held in her hometown of Alexandria, Indiana, on Sunday, the event honored Joey’s childhood, years performing with Rory as Joey+Rory and the legacy of love she left behind for the couple’s daughter, Indiana, 2.
“In the Alexandria High School gymnasium – the same place where Joey had played basketball and volleyball and cheered for her home team – a few thousand people gathered together in her honor,” wrote Rory, 50, on his blog This Life I Live on Friday. “But this time, the cheers were all for her.”
The widower shared a photo of his and Indy’s reaction in the audience, writing, “After I spoke, Indy and I stood and watched a video honoring her mama. It was hard and beautiful to watch at the same time.”
Hosted by close friends and collaborators Bill and Gloria Gaither, the celebration of Joey’s life included sweet moments with her loved ones. While “Joey’s mother and father sang a hymn and shared a few words from their hearts,” her sister Jody “talked about being by our side as Joey’s caregiver for the last few months and how Joey has impacted her as a woman and mother,” Rory wrote.
Even though he managed to smile at the event, Rory says it was challenging to prepare himself on their way to Indiana from their home in Pottsville, Tennessee, where Joey was laid to rest on March 8.
“A few minutes before, as Indy was still napping, I sat in the back hallway of the bus and did my best to come up with a few words to say … to thank this town and to lift up my beautiful bride and this community,” he penned.
Rory explained how the town has impacted not just Joey’s life, but his as well. He reminisced about the first time he visited Alexandria in April 2002, when he proposed to her after just two months of dating. After asking for permission from Joey’s father for her hand in marriage, Rory took her for a walk down the road where her brother was killed in a car accident years earlier.
“Back at her mama’s farmhouse, I took Joey’s hand and we walked west through the dark, down the little lane that they live on,” Rory wrote. “We stopped about a quarter-mile away, right in front of the white cross on the side of the road where Justin had been killed.”
Rory recalled how Joey told him she and her “mama were the first ones to the scene,” where she “knelt over her brother” and prayed for him “minutes after the accident that took his life.”
He added: “I wanted to change that moment for her … to try to make it better. To turn that place into a beautiful beginning instead of a heartbreaking ending.”
Having made “a hundred trips back” since then, Rory said none have been more special than going back for Joey’s memorial on March 13.
“We took one final tour bus ride home. To Joey’s town,” he shared. “To grieve with and celebrate with the people in her community. And to lift up one of their own with tears and joy and songs and speeches.”
Rory thanked the people of the town for their outpouring of love and generosity.
“I never paid for a piece of pizza while we were there the past five months,” he wrote. “Or an oil change. Or hardly even a meal at a restaurant. I’ve been hugged by cashiers at Home Depot and had people cry in my arms in the produce aisle of the grocery store. I’ve had waitresses pray with me in restaurants and neighbors drop off home cooked meals day and night to the house we were staying in.”
Thinking of the town’s generosity, Rory noted, “People just want to help. They feel your hurt and want to share your pain. They made something hard, a little easier.”