Grey’s Anatomy has seen many shake-ups over its 19 seasons but none as big as the one that’s due on February 23, when star Ellen Pompeo will make (what’s being billed as) her final appearance as Meredith Grey. The actor’s exit isn’t exactly a surprise: Pompeo has hinted for years that she was considering opting out, and Grey’s spent the first half of this season laying the groundwork for her departure (the ongoing romance with Nick, Zola’s worsening anxiety, the apparent appeal of Boston’s slightly less rainy weather, etc.). Still, for fans who have stuck around for every bit of Meredith’s winding, tragedy-filled journey from rosy-cheeked intern to the seasoned doctor of today, it’s a gut punch of a loss.
And oh, those tragedies! No character on network TV has endured as much trauma, disaster, and plain bad luck as Meredith Grey. In her 40-odd years, this woman has undergone everything from plane crashes to bomb threats and custody battles to a burst appendix. That’s not even mentioning the most recent affront Grey’s has wrought upon her: the fire that engulfs her beloved Seattle home just as she’s about to leave town. (This isn’t a show known for its subtlety, okay?)
In honor of Meredith’s upcoming exit, we’ve ranked all of the many, many tragedies that have befallen her over the course of Grey’s, from the fairly mundane to the truly jaw-dropping. Because while the show may not always be kind to its titular heroine, it has always known how to keep viewers hooked for more.
19. When She Goes to Jail (Season 16, Episode Six)
Let’s start with one that was kind of Meredith’s fault. Back in Season 15, she casually commits some insurance fraud in order to help a dad and daughter who are seeking asylum. As punishment, she is sentenced to community service, but when she skips out on that one too many times, she’s sentenced to jail … where she spends a grand total of a few days, or so it seemed by the speed in which Grey’s ended that story line. Although one may assume that having to leave her kids and go to jail (even for a short period) would be traumatizing for Meredith, she doesn’t seem to mind the situation so much, making a friend during her stay and coming out none the worse.
18. When Her Appendix Bursts (Season Three, Episode Four)
In the grand scheme of Bad Things That Have Happened to Meredith Grey, a burst appendix and the resulting emergency surgery are barely contenders. Still, they’re just one more crappy, painful thing for our protagonist to have endured — even if they do lead to her choosing Derek over hot vet Finn.
17. When She and Derek (Briefly) Lose Custody of Zola (Season Eight, Episode Two)
Another hardship mostly of Meredith’s own making, this one is especially silly because it gets worked out so quickly. In the midst of trying to adopt Zola with Derek, Meredith is fired from the hospital (not for the last time!) because she tampered with the Alzheimer’s trial. Naturally, when Zola’s social worker finds out Meredith was fired and lied about living with Derek, she takes the baby away. Soon enough, though, Zola is returned to their custody, and Meredith and Derek try to move forward as one big happy family.
16. When Her Stepmother Dies (Season Three, Episode 23)
Meredith has faced a lot of death in her lifetime, so while the sudden demise of one’s stepmother (of hiccups, of all things!) would be horrible for most people, it is simply a sad, if fairly run-of-the-mill, experience for her. What probably hurts worse for Meredith than the poor woman’s actual death is when her shell-shocked dad slaps her in front of Derek and blames her for what happened. Yeesh.
15. When Cristina Moves to Switzerland (Season Ten, Episode 24)
No, Cristina didn’t die, and yes, they’re still in touch (even if we see only Meredith’s side of the FaceTime calls because Sandra Oh is too busy wracking up Emmy noms or whatever). Even so, the physical loss of Meredith’s person was devastating, both to the character and to fans who had grown protective over the bond between Seattle’s darkest and twistiest sisters.
14. When Her Dad Dies (Season 15, Episode 11)
Look, Thatcher wasn’t exactly the world’s best dad. He drank too much, was emotionally abusive, and dipped out of Meredith’s life for a good 20 years to be with his other family. He even had the nerve to use her as a liver donor when he needed a transplant! But he was family, of which Meredith has little, and his death was upsetting simply because he and Meredith deserved more time to rebuild their relationship.
13. When DeLuca Dies (Season 17, Episode Seven)
Let me be clear: Andrew DeLuca’s murder isn’t low on this list because it isn’t tragic. It’s low because, despite Meredith having a long-term relationship with this man, she gets over his death real fast. Sure, she’s sad for a bit, but barely an episode later she is plotting her course as residency director and tackling a cure for Parkinson’s! Guess those feelings weren’t that deep.
12. When She Witnesses Ellis’s Suicide Attempt As a Child (Season 11, Episode Four)
Now we’re getting to the real trauma. Long before Grey’s viewers met Meredith, she had survived multiple hardships on her own, including watching her mother slit her wrists in front of her when she was a kid. The sad thing is, this wasn’t even the worst thing Ellis did to Meredith over the years — more on that in a bit.
11. When Her House Goes Up in Flames (Season 19, Episode Six)
In the mid-season-19 finale last November, Meredith comes home to discover that her house has been struck by lightning and is on fire. We have yet to see the results, but from the looks of it, things ain’t good. Sure, Meredith can easily afford a new place, but the loss of the house is a real bummer. After all, it was Ellis’s house originally, and over the course of the show, it has played home to an endless array of friends, lovers, pets, and “strays,” — Meredith’s affectionate name for outsiders in need of a short-term reprieve. Cristina and Owen’s wedding happened there! April and Jackson’s baby was born there! R.I.P., house. We will miss you.
10. When She Has a C-section in the Dark (Season Nine, Episode 24)
And you thought your childbirth story was rough: After falling down the stairs in the midst of a superstorm (because of course), Meredith goes into labor early and requires a C-section — only to have the hospital lights totally go out. The procedure goes well enough until Meredith realizes she’s internally bleeding and needs a second emergency surgery, but thankfully, both Mom and baby end up totally okay. She even names the baby after Bailey, who operated on her! Very dark yet sweet — classic Grey’s.
9. When Her Mom Dies (Season Three, Episode 17)
And the world’s worst parent award goes to … Ellis Grey! Truly, this horrible woman is responsible for like 75 percent of the emotional trauma Meredith has experienced. After scarring her daughter for life with that suicide attempt, Ellis continues her reign of terror by pushing her to extremes, bashing her intelligence and skills, and never, ever being pleased with a single thing Meredith does. Still, Mer had majorly complicated feelings about her mom, and when Ellis eventually dies owing to a medical complication, it’s devastating for Meredith, even if her passing is, on some level, a relief.
8. When She Sticks Her Hand Into a Live Bomb (Season Two, Episode 16)
Oh, the bomb threat. One of Grey’s most iconic episodes, the two-part, post–Super Bowl season-two event sees a clearly death-courting Meredith put her hand inside a patient with a live, unexploded bomb in his body. But that isn’t even the worst of it! When the bomb squad finally gets Meredith out safely, the device explodes, killing Kyle Chandler right in front of her eyes. Truly, no one should have to see that.
7. When George Dies (Season Five, Episode 24)
Few Grey’s Anatomy deaths have hit as hard as George’s, and surprise, surprise, Meredith takes the brunt of the onscreen pain. She’s the one who discovers that the severely burned patient trying to write in her palm is 007, a.k.a. George, and watching her come to that heartbreaking realization — especially knowing how injured he is and how little chance he has to survive — was truly rough to watch. Even for the permanently grief-stricken doctor, losing one of her best friends takes a deep emotional toll.
6. When She Gets COVID and Is Put on a Ventilator (Season 17, Episode Six)
Considering how often Grey’s pulls stories from the headlines, it made sense that the show would feature at least one character dealing with a serious case of COVID-19. But did it have to be Meredith, who suffered so much already?! Girl not only contracts the disease but gets a case so bad that she ends up on a freakin’ ventilator for months and nearly dies. The only good part is that she at least isn’t in pain during the worst of it, just frolicking around on the beach with all her dead friends and husband.
5. When She Is Brutally Attacked by a Patient (Season 12, Episode Nine)
This one just felt so unnecessary. A patient suffering from post-seizure hyperaggression attacks Meredith as she tries to help him, throwing her across the room and hurting her so badly that her jaw gets displaced. It takes weeks for her to fully recover, and that’s only from the physical injuries — who knew how deep the fear and anger went?
4. When She Almost Drowns (Season Three, Episode 16)
In one of Grey’s first major traumas, Meredith nearly drowns after a patient pushes her into the water during a ferryboat accident. Derek is able to rescue her, but she suffered severe hypothermia and almost dies. If that weren’t serious enough, it turns out she basically let herself drown because she didn’t know if she wanted to continue living. A double whammy of a tragedy, though it did make for highly captivating TV.
3. When She Has a Miscarriage While Seemingly Watching Her Husband Die (Season Six, Episode 24)
Just another normal day on Grey’s Anatomy, folks. During season six’s iconic shooter-in-the-hospital finale, Derek gets shot. In an attempt to stop the gunman from finishing the job by fooling him into thinking they’ve stopped operating on Derek, Cristina and Jackson make it look as if Derek has died. Alas, Meredith is fooled too and is so shocked and heartbroken that she has a miscarriage. Even more horrifying? She can’t take any time to mourn or heal, as she has to operate on an also-injured Owen to keep him alive.
2. When She’s in a Plane Crash and Loses Her Sister (Season Eight, Episode 24)
As much as Grey’s fans enjoy making fun of the show’s plane-crash episodes for their utter ridiculousness (see those forever-funny Cristina “I lost a shoe!” memes), they are actually extremely dire. Lest you forget, Meredith and five of her fellow docs are stranded in the woods after their plane nosedives, many of them seriously injured and with no help in sight. One of those badly hurt is Mer’s sister, Lexie, who is crushed under plane parts and eventually succumbs to her wounds. Although Meredith herself walks away with just minor injuries, the combination of experiencing the terrifying crash and losing her sister — one of her only remaining relatives — is nearly too much for her to bear. Even after the doctors are rescued, the emotional toll of the crash and Lexie’s death weigh heavily on all of them, and not until weeks later does Meredith seem to fully process the horrific extent of what happened.
1. When Derek Dies (Season 11, Episode 21)
As much tragedy and disaster as Meredith experiences over her lifetime, nothing takes as big a toll as the untimely death of her beloved husband, Derek — especially considering how frustratingly preventable his death was, with that damn Penny refusing to order a head CT even though he seemed to be suffering neurological damage after a gnarly run-in with a car. Because of this terrible mistake, Derek passes, widowing Meredith and leaving their three kids without a father. In the years afterward, Meredith deals with her grief and rebuilds her life (and eventually finds love again), but even today, Derek’s loss still hangs over it all.
Will a move to Boston and life with Nick help heal the wound? Fingers crossed, but we may never know — unless Pompeo finds her way back to Grey’s down the line for a cameo or a much-buzzed guest appearance. But if we know Meredith, any return to the show will just mean we’ll have to update this list with yet another tragedy that befalls the world’s unluckiest doctor.