There are some things that no amount of warning can prepare you for, and a beloved cast member leaving a long-running show is one of them. Sarah Drew's behind-the-scenes Grey's Anatomy photos from her last days on set are bittersweet to look at for exactly that reason. On the one hand, viewers can appreciate the actor sharing her last moments on the show with them. But on the other, being along for the journey as the 37-year-old says goodbye to the show she starred on for eight seasons is nothing less than heartbreaking.
"Here are some of my favorite people on the planet," she captioned a May 10 photo of herself on a hospital bed surrounded by her castmates. "While shooting this scene my heart was so full of joy and sadness at the same time that it was almost unbearable."
Spoilers ahead for the May 10 episode of Grey's. It's a heart-wrenching sentiment, and one echoed on many of the images she posted to her Instagram in the wake of Thursday night's episode. That episode was already emotional enough, because it included a devastating car accident for Drew's character April Kepner. After the preview showed the redhead on a gurney, many fans wondered if this was how Shonda Rhimes was writing April off the show, and they felt some type of way about it.
But after a rivetingly emotional scene with Jesse Williams' Jackson Avery in this week's episode (with Drew live-tweeting every step of the way), the plucky doctor ultimately pulled through. And with her survival assured, Drew took to Instagram to bid the show farewell in advance of her actual final episode of Grey's, which will air on May 17.
Every moment that she's shared so far across social media has given fans a peek into her experiences on Grey's, and her note to Williams from the caption of the photo above is particularly touching. It says, in part:
"Our partnership on this show has been so sweet, so collaborative, so challenging (in the absolute BEST way). We got to tell stories that really matter, that have reached out and provided a safe space for people to love, laugh, mourn and grow. I will be forever grateful to my co-captain for the 9 years of friendship and for the opportunity to tell such beautiful stories together."
Like many of the captions, the message is of conflicting sorrow and happiness. Sorrow at having to leave this place and the people she's come to call home, but happiness at how much time she got to spend there, and the bonds she's been able to forge with some coworkers; she and castmate Chandra Wilson seem to be particularly close.
And it's no wonder that it's proving so difficult to say goodbye. Drew has played Dr. Kepner on the medical drama since 2009, right up until it was announced in early March that her contract would not be renewed past Season 14. The decision seemed to blindside both the actor and her fans alike. And even the fact that showrunner Krista Vernoff told Deadline that there were no hard feelings from ABC, insisting — "Our job is to follow the stories where they want to go, and sometimes that means saying goodbye to characters we love" — Drew is still grappling with some big emotions.
"It felt horrible to be asked to leave my family of 9 years," she wrote in another caption, "and I have experienced real, deep grief over it." But she continued:
"BUT I have ALSO been so buoyed up by my cast, my crew, the fans, and my family in such extraordinary ways, that I wouldn’t trade any moment of it for the world. I keep describing my experience over the last two months as being “love-bombed” because between the conversations, the hugs, the letters, the tweets, the plane(!), that’s truly what I’ve felt. Love-bombed. In the wake of being let go, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude, and I’ve felt profoundly loved. I am so humbled and so thankful."
It was never going to be easy for fans to say goodbye to April, or for Drew to say goodbye to Grey's Anatomy. But getting to peek behind the scenes and see what her last days on set have been like is probably easing the process for both, so keep those memories coming, because there are more than enough tears to go around.