By Whitney Pastorek
Updated October 16, 2008 at 10:41 PM EDT

It’s Maura Tierney’s last episode of ER tonight, PopWatchers — as good a sign as any that NBC’s medical marvel is drawing to an end, since it’s kind of hard to imagine giving a rip about that show without her on it. Of course, a lot of us first fell in love with Tierney thanks to NewsRadio, but the fact that you guys voted her the Best Actress in a Drama in this year’s inaugural EWwys means she doth gots mad skillz, yo. And I’d like to take a moment here to honor them, because I’ve been ranting about her underrated awesomeness in TV meetings for what seems like forever, and this is my last shot.

A brief character recap: Abby Lockhart was born from a one-ep guest spot as Carol Hathaway’s OB nurse way back in 1999. She then entered med school, helped John Carter through his weird post-stabbing-of-Lucy addiction to pills, went back to nursing after her deadbeat ex stole her money, dealt with her bipolar brother and way more bipolar mom (Sally Field!), eventually got her medical degree, struggled with alcoholism, dated Luka Kovac, dated Carter, dated this sort of Paul Rudd-lookin’ med student named Jake, fell in love with Luka, got pregnant, had his baby, nearly died in childbirth, struggled with alcoholism again, slept with Stanley Tucci, got back together with Luka for the most part, and recently survived an mob-related ambulance bombing. And that’s leaving out the majority of the weekly attacks, storms, helicopter crashes, hijackings, kidnappings, run-ins with Forest Whitaker, and assorted other catastrophes she’s endured over the past nine years. There really isn’t room on the internets for all of it.

But see, it’s not hard to suffer through season after season of an increasingly hysterical television program. (People on soaps do it all the time.) What is hard is finding a way to ground even the most ludicrous storyline in an identifiable place, and to keep an audience deeply connected with your character despite all the reprehensible things the writers are making her do (like sleep with Stanley Tucci). With her immense compassion, subtlety, and earthy bull-whip power as an actress, Tierney has succeeded in turning Abby into that rarest of all TV entities: someone I consider a friend, and who I will actually miss. Maybe that makes me crazy, but I don’t think I’m alone. And though I’m prone to exaggeration, I also don’t think saying “ER would not have lasted this long without Maura Tierney” is any kind of overstatement.

So now I open the floor to you, PopWatchers, to share your favorite Abby moments in the comments and discuss how you’d like to see her go out. Tierney says she begged the writers to kill the girl off, but in the wake of Mekhi Phifer’s somewhat ignoble passing in the premiere — that dude deserved better — I think we can all agree we’d like to see Abby walk out the doors under her own steam, no?

addCredit(“Joel Warren/NBC”)