As an NFL football player, you have to be tough as nails, fearless on and off the field, and tenaciously unemotional. Eleven-year NFL veteran Brian Griese, who retired from football in 2009, embodied all of those qualities as a quarterback.
But as a 12-year-old boy who had just lost his mother, he certainly didn’t feel tough, fearless or unemotional. “It was a really difficult experience,” recalls Brian, the son of Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese. “I felt like I was the only 12-year-old boy in the world who had just lost his mother, and I struggled through that time in my life.”
Fast forward 15 years, and Brian was able to transform his experience into a charitable organization dedicated to ensuring no child feels alone in grief. Judi’s House — appropriately named after his mother — opened in 2002 to support kids who have experienced loss, connect them with peers and teach them coping skills to prevent negative outcomes such as depression, anxiety and alcoholism.
“When my mother passed away, I remember thinking that I would have benefited from meeting with other kids who were going through the same thing I was,” he says. “But I didn’t really know of any other kids. I didn’t have a place to go.”
No Time Like the Present
Soon after he was drafted by the Broncos in 1998, Brian realized he wanted to support Denver-area kids who had lost a loved one. Initially, he and his wife, Brook, thought to establish a grant-making foundation to support existing organizations doing that kind of work.
“I researched what programs were out there and found that there were none,” he says. “It was my second year in the NFL, and I had a lot of time commitments and pressures on me, following in the footsteps of a legend in John Elway, who had just retired.”