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Meredith’s 5 Most Heartbreaking Moments On Grey’s Anatomy Ranked

Few television characters have been hurt, punched, emotionally damaged, or just generally maligned like Dr. Meredith Grey. Played by Ellen Pompeo for 19 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Meredith has had no shortage of flat-out terrible things happen to her. Honestly, with all this woman has been through, a lesser person probably would have chopped all their hair off, changed their name, assumed a new identity, and stopped speaking to everybody they know so that they could at least try to avoid disaster. Not Meredith, though. She’s a survivor. (She actually does run away at one point, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Any “Grey’s Anatomy” fan worth their salt is familiar with Meredith’s troubles: her burst appendix, the time she got her hand on a homemade bomb in a body cavity, the time she was given a C-section in a hospital with no electricity, the time she went to jail because she skipped community service for committing insurance fraud, and so on. So when it comes to Meredith’s most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking moments, which are the most upsetting?

5. When she almost drowns and is legally dead for a while

Meredith drowning
In the show’s third season, Meredith is in, let’s say, a little bit of a funk — you know, the kind where you pick up hobbies like putting your head underwater in the bath and hanging out there until your confused boyfriend pulls you out. This is an obvious harbinger to a scene later in that same episode, where, when she and the other surgical interns are called to the site of a ferryboat crash, Meredith falls into the freezing cold water … and just doesn’t swim.

When Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), the confused boyfriend, yanks Meredith out of water for a second time, she’s completely blue and seems like a lost cause. Brought back to Seattle Grace, Meredith’s colleagues and loved ones try to save her, with her mentor and father figure Richard Webber (James Pickens) declaring that she’s not dead until she’s “warm and dead.”

Because this is “Grey’s Anatomy,” Meredith ends up spending her ordeal in a dream afterlife, visiting other people the show mercilessly killed off. Ultimately, when her mother Ellis Grey (Kate Burton) shuffles off the real mortal coil, Meredith returns to it, but the whole thing is, to say the least, pretty scary.

4. When a plane crash kills her sister

Meredith crying after crash
None of the doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy” can have nice things, even when they get the chance to fly private in the Season 8 finale. After chief of surgery Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) decides that all of his best surgeons should probably be on the same tiny plane together, it crashes in the woods en route to an operation, leaving the doctors injured and stranded. The first of their number to die tragically is Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), Meredith’s half-sister — and though the siblings get off to a rocky start when they first meet, they become family.

Lexie, trapped under part of the plane, succumbs to her injuries, and Meredith’s now-husband Derek has a severely mauled hand after it got stuck in one of the engines. In short, none of them are doing particularly well. Due to the fact that she and her best friend Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) are the least injured of the bunch, they try to stay awake and spot any potential signs of help. Though they’re eventually rescued, the loss of Lexie — and the fact that Lexie’s one true love Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) dies from his injuries back in Seattle — doesn’t help matters.

3. When she has a miscarriage and tells a gunman to shoot her

Meredith crying
Meredith, at a certain point, seems like she just has an outright death wish. That’s never clearer than in the show’s Season 6 two-part finale, where a gunman angry with Derek is loose in Seattle Grace, and even though Derek is his target, he doesn’t really care who he mows down in the process. After killing a whole bunch of surgeons and nurses, the gunman, Gary Clark (Michael O’Neill), shoots Derek right in front of Meredith, who is newly pregnant and hasn’t told her husband yet. Though Cristina and Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) manage to rush Derek to an operating room, Gary finds them again, only for Meredith to confront him and say he should shoot her instead of Derek.

After this frankly unhinged request, Gary doesn’t quite know what to do, until Derek apparently dies on the table. Undone by grief, Meredith completely breaks down until Gary leaves the room, at which point Jackson and Cristina reattach Derek to the machines, reveal he’s not dead, and continue performing surgery. A little while later, when Meredith operates on Owen — who got shot during all of this — she miscarries in her OR, bringing this horrible day full circle (as she finds out she’s pregnant right at the beginning of the episode).

2. When Derek dies

Meredith looking at Derek dying
There are few worse moments — or really, more divisive moments — than when Derek Shepherd dies in Season 11 of “Grey’s Anatomy.” After helping people who were involved in a car accident, Derek drives away when an ambulance comes to get them, only for a truck to hit him shortly thereafter. Brought to a small hospital in a rural area, Derek seems doomed from the start. Though Dempsey’s voiceover begs the on-call physician to do a brain scan, it never happens, and he’s left brain dead.

Derek and Meredith’s marriage had been on the rocks for a while before this all happened, but the two had just made up, with Derek giving up a major project in Washington, D.C. to save their relationship. She arrives at the hospital with their children only to see that Derek is beyond saving, and Pompeo’s performance says so much even while Meredith remains largely silent. When she gives Derek’s prone body permission to pass on, it’s heartbreaking, even if you thought McDreamy could be more of a McJerk a lot of the time. Though losing Derek does lead to a pretty serious career renaissance for Meredith, it’s still a terribly tragic scene, and it makes it all the more rewarding when Dempsey reprises his role on Meredith’s now-infamous “COVID beach” in Season 17.

1. When Cristina moves away

Meredith and Cristina in bed
Let’s be honest: Derek Shepherd was never the love of Meredith’s life. That title belongs firmly to Cristina Yang. Meredith’s undisputed “person,” Cristina is her other half throughout the series, which makes it all the more tragic when Cristina moves to Switzerland in Season 10.

A doggedly ambitious and extraordinarily talented cardiothoracic surgeon, Cristina wants to bring her career to unimaginable heights, and she gets the chance when her former fiancé Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) flies her to Zurich to hear her speak about her recent medical breakthrough with a 3D-printed portal vein. When Burke tells Cristina he wants to retire and hire her to run his medical research foundation, it’s too tempting to pass up, and it’s clear that Cristina’s days in Seattle — and by Meredith’s side — are numbered.

Meredith knows that her friend has to move on and seize this incredible opportunity, but watching these two best friends part ways is one of the hardest moments for “Grey’s Anatomy” fans to handle. Add in that they “dance it out” together one last time and that Cristina delivers one of the show’s best lines in her farewell — “he is very dreamy, but he is not the sun; you are” — as she tells Meredith not to blindly follow Derek and ignore her needs, and you’ve got one of Meredith’s most heartbreaking moments.


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