Whenever a butterfly flutters by, April Fenton says a silent hello to her late daughter, Brandi.

The winged creatures the girl loved are plentiful at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, so named because her mom helped raise more than $1.5 million toward its construction.

Brandi was 13 when she died in a car crash in 2003, a joyful girl on the cusp of young womanhood.

For the longest time afterward, her stricken mother started each day in a state of confusion, wondering through the haze of half-sleep if perhaps it had all been a bad dream.

"I would wake up every morning thinking, 'Did Brandi really die?' " April, 46, recalls.

"I had an issue with God after that, because why would he allow this?" she remembers thinking.

"I didn't like hearing 'Well, God needed an angel.' I heard that a lot, and it didn't comfort me."

Some days, the only thing that got her out of bed was knowing that her other two kids - son Garrett, now 19, and daughter Cassidy, 14 - needed her more than ever.

Time has dulled the pain, yet it's never very far away. Eight years later, the sight of Brandi's old schoolmates, now about to graduate from college, stabs her heart.

"I just look at them and think, 'I'm missing that.' "

The park has helped her focus on something positive.

Pima County had some empty acreage at East River Road and North Alvernon Way. Given Brandi's love of sports like soccer and tennis, supporting a recreation site seemed a fitting way to honor her daughter's memory.

She and her husband, Jon Fenton, put together a fundraising foundation, a partnership between public and private sources. In December 2006 the park officially opened.

"To see all the kids laughing and playing and running through the splash pad, it's a wonderful feeling," Fenton said.

"Day or night when we drive by there, I get a smile on my face."

The park features three soccer fields, covered basketball courts and other amenities - including a memorial garden where April Fenton senses her daughter's presence with every passing butterfly.

- Carol Ann Alaimo