David Canfield
October 17, 2017 AT 09:13 AM EDT

The cast of Blue Bloods is finally speaking out on the departure of former cast member Amy Carlson.

The series’ main actors gathered for a panel discussion as part of New York’s PaleyFest on Monday night, where they touched on topics ranging from the divisive political moment to the magic of shooting those Reagan family dinner scenes. But it was when the topic of Carlson’s abrupt exit from the show came up that the cast got frank about the major changes being felt on set.

Carlson played Linda, the wife of Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg), since the Blue Bloods pilot. (She was a series regular from season 2 onward.) At the beginning of the eighth season, it was revealed that Linda, an ER nurse, had died in a helicopter crash while on the job, leaving Danny to grieve and fans wanting answers. The character’s exit had not been revealed or even hinted at prior to the episode’s airing.

Wahlberg revealed on the panel that it’s been difficult for him to move on, both as an actor and as Danny’s portrayer. “Rather than try to act or find something to do, I just thought about my friend Amy Carlson,” he explained of how he approached those first scenes playing a widower. “I thought about all the years together and all the highs and lows and the ups and downs and the journey. Any tears I shed in that scene was really Donnie shedding them for Amy… She’s a dear friend. I cherish our friendship.”

The cast also referenced the outcry from some fans, with Wahlberg specifically expressing sympathy and asking for patience. “I know the audience is grieving her loss too, a lot, and I think if everyone rides the season out and takes that journey with the family as well, they will go through those stages of grief together and do what Blue Bloods typically does: make us all one family,” he said. “Hopefully this family of our cast, the show, and the viewers will all mourn the loss together and move forward after this season.”

In a statement posted to social media shortly after the season 8 premiere, Carlson stated that she “loved playing Linda” and was “so grateful to the Blue Bloods cast and crew.” Deadline reported that Linda being written out was Carlson’s decision and that she “felt it was time to move on.”

Speaking with EW before the panel discussion, costar Bridget Moynahan said she and the cast felt “disappointed” by Carlson’s decision and indicated that the story line of Linda’s death was one the show needed to introduce, for better or worse. “We were all disappointed to see that she was going,” Moynahan said. “It was unfortunate that she made that decision at the end of season 7, so we were stuck with the story line as we could get it… But I’m really thrilled for her to go off and pursue other things and follow what she felt was best for her.”

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