Erin Strecker
October 11, 2013 AT 04:36 AM EDT

In what was undoubtedly Glee’s toughest hour, the Lima, Ohio gang of misfits said goodbye to Finn Hudson last night, with a wholly upsetting but well done episode that featured many of the alums performing heartbreaking solo numbers, as well as group grieving scenes that were hopefully cathartic for everyone missing Cory Monteith — both the actors that worked with him for the past four years as well as fans who only knew him through a television screen.

The show began on a dark auditorium stage as the current McKinley Glee club sang “Seasons of Love.” Halfway through, alums Mercedes, Puck, Mike, Kurt and Santana joined them to finish out the stirring rendition. As the number ended, the camera cut to a huge photo of football star Finn Hudson on the screen behind them, then to the black title card. The gut-wrenching “Farewell to Finn” hour had officially begun.

The episode (co-written by the Glee Power Trio of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan) did two very smart things right off the bat: First of all, Glee picked up three weeks after Finn’s funeral, so viewers were spared the uncomfortable, too-close-to-home realness of watching the cast act out a funeral of a friend. Secondly, the show didn’t say how exactly Finn died; instead, Kurt stated that it isn’t important how someone dies, but instead how they lived their life. And so the focus of the episode was on how exactly football-star-turned-national-singing-champ Finn Hudson lived his all-too-short life: Kindly, sweetly and compassionately.

The premise of the episode involved all the main characters returning to Lima for a special Glee club memorial at the school planned by Mr. Schuester. “We’re all going back, everyone who can. Being together is hard; it makes it more real,” Kurt explained via voiceover. “But I also need my friends right now. People keep asking me, ‘What are you feeling?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ But I have no answers. Honestly, what can you say about a 19-year-old who dies?”

Apparently, very little, so the show instead focused on powerful solo performances by many in the cast. The whiteboard assignment of the week was simply, ‘Finn,’ so one by one the gang got up to sing a song that reminded them of him. And yes, it was just as upsetting to watch as you thought it would be. Mercedes kicked things off by belting, “I’ll Stand By You,” which of course Finn himself sang (to a sonogram, no less) in the early days of the show. Bittersweet memories!

NEXT: Finn’s mom and Santana break down

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