The stepmother of a young woman whose remains were found in the Grand River last week says she hopes her tragedy will ease the pain experienced by other families with missing loved ones.

Linda Smith's stepdaughter Tasha Marie Smith, 28, was last seen at her home in Cambridge on Dec. 1, 2010. On Tuesday, Waterloo Regional Police identified the human remains found along the riverbank in downtown Galt last Friday as Tasha Marie Smith.

Smith said news of her stepdaughter's death has left the whole family in a state of shock.

"It's heartbreaking now to have to watch my husband suffer," she said. "For 3½ years, he has believed that he was going to find her, that she was going to come home."

Smith said the family did everything to make that happen. They put up posters, handed out flyers, and visited all the shelters and food banks they could think of.

"You're hoping against hope for the very best: that it's a temporary thing," she said, but when a police officer called on Tuesday, Smith knew the end had come.

"Your heart just stops beating, because it's just the wrong end. It's the wrong conclusion. I always thought that I'd find her."

Struggles with mental illness

Tasha Marie Smith

Tasha Marie Smith was last seen at her Cambridge home on Dec. 1, 2010, police say. (Waterloo Regional Police Service)

Police said Tasha Marie Smith suffered from multiple personality disorders and sometimes used the names Punx and Corey, but Smith said her stepdaughter wasn't defined by mental illness.

She was also a college graduate, a talented graphic artist and a loving member of the family.

"She talked to everybody and she liked everybody," Smith said.

"If she had five dollars, she would buy as many presents as she could. It might only be a pencil, but she'd buy you a present. That's just who she was."

For the past three years, Linda Smith has channelled her grief and energy into building an online support group for families who, like her own, are missing one of their loved ones. Although she now has closure, Smith said she'll continue to work with the group.

"There are others out there, like Tasha, that are still missing," she said, adding that if she can help one family through the nightmare of missing a loved one, then her stepdaughter's death will not be in vain.