By Michael Ausiello
May 13, 2010 at 12:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Eric McCandless/ABCSPOILER ALERT: If you have yet to watch last night’s Private Practice finale, stop reading now. I repeat, if you have yet to watch last night’s Private Practice finale, stop reading now. For the last time, if you have yet to watch last night’s Private Practice finale, stop reading now. Everyone else, onward and downward…

The time for teasing has come to an end: I can now confirm that the answer to my death-themed Private Practice blind item is Dell. What, you say? The episode already aired? Well, it’s the thought that counts. All kidding aside, Chris Lowell’s receptionist-slash-midwife climbed the stairway to heaven after suffering one of those scary slow brain bleeds. It was one of several major developments in a finale that also saw Charlotte accept Cooper’s marriage proposal and Addison finally get the guy — that guy being Sam, not Pete. Need help making sense of all the developments? Good news — series creator Shonda Rhimes is here with answers to all your burning Qs.

Why’d you kill Dell?

SHONDA RHIMES: [Sigh] It was a hard choice to make. Chris and I had talked a while ago about him exiting the show at the end of the season. This has been something we’ve been planning for all season long. I said to him, “I think you should go off happy.” And he said, “I want to go out with a bang. I want to go out in the worst, most painful way possible.” Which is how we came up with this story line. And Dell is so much more grown-up than he was when we first met him. I love the scene where he’s lying in bed with his daughter and he basically knows that he’s going to die. You saw so much growth in his character.

Was it Chris’ decision to leave?

RHIMES: We came to the decisions together. We both felt for a while that Dell didn’t have enough to do. He’s a midwife, so there are only so many babies that can be delivered on the show. He’s too good of an actor to just be handing people charts. And so finally one day I called him and said, “What do you think?” And he was like, “I totally agree.”

Why not kill him off at the beginning of the season?

RHIMES: We had a story we wanted to tell. I had an arc for this season that was really important, a journey for our characters to go on that, frankly, would have been devastated by the death of Dell in the middle of the season. He’s too important a character in everyone’s lives. So it was about telling the story in the best way possible and giving [Chris] a great story along the way.

Don’t you feel guilty about making Betsy an orphan?

RHIMES: That was the hardest part. Debra Cahn, who wrote the finale, would call me on a daily basis and say, “You’re a horrible, horrible person.” And it was hard for me. Betsy is my daughter’s age. It’s pretty devastating, and I was really worried about what we were going to do with Betsy.

What are you going to do with Betsy now?

RHIMES: I haven’t decided yet.

Let’s discuss some of the happier developments in the episode. Cooper and Charlotte got engaged.

RHIMES: The Private finale last year left the audience fairly devastated. And I felt like this year I owed it to the audience to give them an ending that was not that. We’ve been watching all of our characters on this journey this season in their relationships, and [Cooper and Charlotte] had really come into their own. They’re one of my favorite couples, and I wanted you to feel like they were together. Not that it’s going to be easy, but they’re going to be together.

Addison chose Sam over Pete. Why?

RHIMES: We made it clear from the very beginning that neither Peter nor Addison are in love with one another. They love each other, but they’re both in love with other people. And Addison’s been on this struggle all season, and part of it was she wants to not be a cheater. And we watched her really grow. And I wanted her to have a chance to be happy. She finally deserves happiness. I had actually written a big monologue for her about the fact that at the beginning of the season she says to Naomi, “You left me all alone.” And Naomi says, “I would never leave you alone.” And by the end of the season Naomi kind of left her alone. And the only person who’s been there the entire time through thick and thin has been Sam. And I like them together.

Do you view them as a long-term couple?

RHIMES: I have no idea what’s going to happen next season. I’m not kidding. We do it every year. Last year when I wrote that Violet’s belly got cut open, I said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do or how we’re going to get out of this.”

But the fact that you want Addison to be happy implies…

RHIMES: I want her to have a shot at long-term happiness. The big step for her was to finally choose what she wants, not because it’s the wrong decision or because it’s dangerous and sexy, but because it feels right.

There was a rumor going around that Chris might not be the only cast member leaving the show.

RHIMES: There are no plans for anyone else to leave the show.

Are you going to replace Dell?

RHIMES: No. Dell’s irreplaceable.