How can something be so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time? The story behind country duo Joey + Rory’s 2012 song, “When I’m Gone,” is indeed both. The poignant song took on a whole new, very personal meaning earlier this year. The track, which Joey Feek takes the lead on singing, is written from the perspective of someone who is dying and telling their loved one they’ll be okay. Years later, Joey would be diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and sadly pass away in March of this year. Despite the tragedy, there’s a wonderful story behind the song.
Though Joey and Rory wrote a lot of their own songs, Rory shared on his blog that “When I’m Gone” was presented to them by a friend named Sandy Lawrence, who had written the song for her dying mother as a way to cope with her emotions. The Feek’s were so moved by the song that they included it on their 12-track album, His and Hers.
The couple’s intention was that the song might help others. “Our hope was that the song’s message might help someone who is in the midst of losing someone they love,” Rory shared.
When they started shooting the music video on the couple’s farm, it was suggested that Joey sing it as if she was the one dying. They wanted her to sing the song to Rory, but he wasn’t a fan of that idea. He felt it hit too close too home.
In the end, Rory realized that vision was what was right for the song, so that’s how they shot it. Rory reminisced, saying, “… so the cameras rolled and both Joey and I let us ourselves imagine what it would be like if she had to leave this world and I was left behind without her…”
A couple years later, the song took on a very personal meaning. “And now, here I sit beside my dying wife,” Rory recounted in his January post that discussed the song’s history. “I don’t say those words lightly. As a matter-of-fact, I haven’t said them at all. But my beautiful bride has said them to me in these couple of days.”
At this point in time, Joey’s pain had escalated and so had the morphine required to keep it at bay. Rory and Joey knew it was only a matter of time. However, Rory wasn’t saddened by “When I’m Gone”; He was grateful for it.
Calling it an act of God, Rory explains, “He knew I would need her to tell me goodbye… not just once, but a thousand times. And I’d need to know that no matter how much time passes, that she loves me still. And He made it so that if I needed to be reminded of her beautiful life and heart and voice… she would only be a ‘click’ away.”
Rory believes that the song is a gift and hopes that it has the power to do what they always hoped it would — heal hearts, even his.