Fr. Godecker returns to serve

Priest continues recovery after health scare


Cathedran file photo

Fr. Jeff Godecker celebrates a school wide Mass last year in the Welch Activity Center.

Ava Amos, Reporter

Dead for five minutes after experiencing a heart attack, Fr. Jeff Godecker’s recovery takes on special significance during Holy Week. About his medical ordeal and recuperation, he answers questions from reporter Ava Amos. 

Q. Would you say that your surgery has strengthened you? If so, in what way?

A. Well, it certainly has made me more appreciative and more thankful in terms of doctors’ abilities to heal and make me better. I mean everything is working right. It’s largely a question of thanks and being more aware of the care that people have given me over there in New Zealand and then the care and the prayers that I got from everybody over here at Cathedral and Immaculate Heart where I was pastor and Fatima where I live. 

It’s just been great. People have been really responsive like since I’ve been home by bringing food and stopping in and checking on me and all those kinds of things, so that’s where I’d see the strength. Physically, I’m hopeful that I will get back to where I was before the surgery. We’ll see. I’m not there yet.

Q. How has your faith grown since the surgery?

A. The whole incident of just kind of dying, which I was dead for about five minutes, and then having that doctor behind me, and then being able to get through that surgery. It reminds me that I’m not really in control. I’m not in control of life, I’m not in control of death. They’re way beyond me and so I have to trust that God takes care of me in some way whether I live or die. And trust is just another really good word for faith. 

Q. Did you ever experience any fears or doubts going into surgery?

A. Not a lot. I think some of it was I had way too many drugs in to be honest. That calmed down my anxieties, and yeah I would have some anxieties.They would come and go. 

When I finally realized what was happening I think maybe the biggest anxiety was that I was 8,000 miles away from home. And didn’t know anybody, or thought I didn’t know anybody. I actually met somebody that I knew from over here. So yeah, not a lot, you just do what you have to. I’ve always been that kind of person, I just do what I have to do. And trust in the doctors that they know what they’re talking about. In many ways it’s so interesting because it’s such a difficult experience, the surgery. It’s very invasive and the recuperation period is a long time. 

I’ve got at least a couple more months to get back to something near normal, but you just have got to put one foot in front of the other. I would say just going back to the anxiety, probably my biggest anxiety was when can I go home. 

Q. Did you feel God’s presence with you during the surgery?

A. Again part of that’s the drugs, for a few days after the surgery I had morphine, I had fentanyl, I had oxycodone, you don’t really think about God too much, your mind is kind of woozy, so to speak. 

I think where God entered into that picture was prior to the surgery. You just surrender and whatever is going to happen is going to happen. And God is in that mix someplace. 

I did ask for and receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick prior to the surgery and that was important to me. 

You know when you’re in pain or you’re drugged it’s hard to pray. It’s one of the reasons why people need to pray for people who are sick, and I think one of the things that got me trough is there were so many people praying for me. So when I couldn’t pray because I was either depressed or drugged up or just full of pain, it’s all those other people that got me through this. 

Q. How did it feel coming back to Cathedral?

A. It was wonderful, I mean I just particularly like the Ash Wednesday Mass. I really love coming over here with the students. For an old person what’s really valuable to me in terms of students is first of all, just that youthful energy that you have when you get 1,000 people in the gym. 

I think students here are very responsive, and it’s just a good experience all the way around. But I did really feel good about coming back. 

Q. How do you feel about your miracle recovery, and what does it mean to you so close to Easter?

A. That’s a really good question. Easter is going to be a really interesting experience for me, I think.

It’s not the same as resurrection. The Resurrection is a whole different thing but to have died for five minutes, and I knew none of that, the only way I know that is from people that have told me that. I have no memory of dying but it is a miracle, but the word I’d rather use is that it’s a mystery. 

It’s hard to understand but the fact of the matter is it happened. You know why am I still here? That’s a really good question, but it certainly was providential to have that doctor behind me. So I don’t know, I’ll let you know on the other side of Easter. 

One of the things that happens to you when you have open heart surgery is one of the reactions is tears. Tears come really easy. Now I’ve noticed that thats not as true as it was, but I cried a lot and most of the time that I cried had nothing to do with the pain, it just had to do with how good is this. How good is this care, it really touched me emotionally. 

Q. Do you feel God has given you a second chance?

A. In some ways yes. I sometimes say, “God this is my second time around because I just didn’t get it right the first time.” 

A lot of people are saying it’s obvious God still has something for me to do, which I agree, but you know sometimes I think what God wants me to do is just be more thankful. I do think that in some ways he wants me to continue to do what I have been doing. So I’m slowing down a little bu I’m going to continue to be involved in ministry. Sometimes when I’m with a person one-on-one and were just chatting I’ll think to myself “This is why I’m still here. This is the reason I’m here.” 

And I suspect that may happen again. Second time around, it does in some ways feel that way. 

Q. How has your recovery progressed?

A. Pretty good, it’s been pretty steady. I feel much better than I did a month ago. I just started cardiac rehab, which is a lot of things like treadmills and stationary bicycles, and some strength training for the upper body. 

One of the things that’s really awful is that when you do do it that much as an older person, you lose all your muscle. So I still have that part to go, I’ll actually probably start that (March 29), so that I can get a little muscle back in my arms. 

But it’s been good I’ve not had a lot of issues. Most of my tests have shown that everything is working. It’s easy for me to get fatigued and stairs are a difficulty for me.