Brian Griese Tackles Life After Death

The number in which former Broncos quarterback Brian Griese takes the most pride isn’t his 2.8 index at Cherry Hills (“I could be scratch if I played more,” says the one-time high-school golf letterman). Nor is it the 102.9 passer rating he achieved in 2000 (a Broncos single-season record).

“It’s well over four thousand,” Griese intones, as if calling a Broncos touchdown on KOA. “That’s how many kids and their families we’ve helped at Judi’s House.

Headquartered in a cozily appointed City Park home at 17th and Gaylord, Judi’s House is the charitable organization Griese founded in 2002 to help children and families who are grieving the death of a loved one find hope and healing within themselves. Griese, who lost his mother, Judi, to breast cancer when he was 10, named the charity in her honor. “Her death affected me until I finally started this,” he says. “It’s a culmination of my grief to pay tribute to my mom by helping these kids.”

Judi’s House helps them by creating a homey environment of acceptance and understanding that allows children and adults in peer support groups to share the experience of loss with others who have endured similar losses. “When my mom died, I know I would have really benefited from being around other kids going through the same thing,” Griese says. “I felt alone, like I’d done something wrong. The kids we help at Judi’s House, they identify with each other, they want to feel normal. We do everything we can to make them feel that way.”

Research shows that unresolved grief can develop into negative coping behaviors—depression, anger, bullying, substance abuse. “We want to be preventative,” says Griese, “and give pure support and work on positive coping behaviors.” And it’s working. That’s why Judi’s House—which is not a residence but a resource center—has 12 full-time employees, plus volunteers and interns who take those who come through its doors through a 10-week “pathfinder” program, “Trailblazers” groups and structured forms of ongoing support. That’s why it created separate programs to meet the needs of suicide support and Spanish speakers. That’s why its services are always free. That’s why it has built a network of care with 35 schools and with faith-based groups, hospices, Outward Bound and numerous community-service organizations. “The future of the program is taking the curriculum to the community, show them what to do with a grieving child,” says CEO Ona Wigginton. “We’re advocates for the grieving.”

The future also involves investing in research and longitudinal studies with the University of Colorado to gauge the efficacy of the program. ”To help families in Denver and around the country and to receive grant money, we need to build empirical data with evidential research,” says Wigginton.

“It’s a challenge. How do you prove you’ve prevented suicide? How do you create control groups?” Griese asks. 

To support the efforts of Judi’s House, Griese will be hosting his fifth annual Players Cup June 10-12 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. This will be The Broadmoor’s third year hosting the event; the first two were held at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits because of its proximity to Chicago (the home of one of Griese’s four pro teams) and featured pro-ams pitting NFL versus NHL players. But, Griese says, because Judi’s House “is about family, we want this to be more of a family getaway than a golf tournament. We want to have an experience—a way for families to reconnect.” So on the schedule is a five-star family experience only The Broadmoor can provide—including glow-in-the-dark putting, rubber duck captures, barbeque, spa treatments, tennis clinics, swimming, gala dinners while the kids eat pizza and watch a movie in the resort’s private theater—and two celebrity-studded rounds of golf.

“The spouses attend, the kids attend,” says Griese. “We have testimonials from kids who have lost parents, parents who have lost kids, teenagers or parents. This gives them the opportunity to speak openly and honestly; it doesn’t feel so foreign. People self-identify. It normalizes their experience.”