Derek Shepherd (Patrick Demsey) was a cornerstone of Grey's Anatomy and, more importantly, of its hero Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) life. But after his tragic death in a car accident last season, Meredith will now have to discover what she wants her new life without him to look like. And according to creator Shonda Rhimes, Meredith's future is looking bright.

"There's a much lighter tone this year that we're going for," Rhimes told reporters at the Television Critics Association fall previews. "Meredith is single and she is living this life that she never thought she was going to be living again. And she's living in a house with her sisters and there's a lot of single women in the show right now, and so she's surrounded by women who are dating and having a whole life and she's not really interested in any of that. You kind of start to wonder, 'Is there a second life here? Or are those years behind you and you are now on a different track?'"

Still mad about that Grey's Anatomy death? Blame Shonda Rhimes

"What I'm excited about is the medical growth that she's experiencing as a leader, who she's becoming as a person and the evolution of that woman and where she's going," Rhimes continued. "I guess the theme is rebirth, which I'm really excited about for all of the characters, but really for Meredith."

"So many people lose their spouses in a myriad of different ways," Pompeo added. "And a lot of people feel like they can't get up again. And so to tell that story about how life does go on after what you think is impossible is something that so many people can relate to. And to tell those stories, if we give anybody, even one person, a little bit of comfort or open their eyes to a new idea or make them feel joy when they thought they couldn't again, that's a story worth telling."

Rhimes also revealed that she felt she had no choice but to kill Derek, since the other option was tarnishing the beauty of the long-running relationship. "The decision to have the character die the way that he did was not a difficult one in the sense of, what were the options?" Rhimes explained. "Either Derek was going to walk out on Meredith and leave her high and dry, and what was that going to mean? That was going to suggest the love was not true, the thing that we had said for 11 years was a lie and McDreamy wasn't McDreamy. So for me, that was untenable.

"Meredith and Derek's love had to remain Meredith and Derek's love. And so as painful as it was for me as a storyteller, because I never really thought it could happen, the only way to preserve what felt true to me was that Derek was going to have to die in order for that love to remain honest," Rhimes said.

"And as difficult as those decisions are, it's really her best writing," Pompeo said. "So as an actor, those are the best scenes to play. That's the meatiest stuff."

Are you excited to see what's next for Meredith?