Phyllis Zimbler Miller – COVID-19: When Words Are All We Have

COVID-19: When Words Are All We Have

We writers may have a small advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic: Most or many of us truly believe in the power of words both to help – and hurt – others.

After all, when we obsess over whether we chose the correct word to describe something, we are recognizing the power that each individual word can have in communicating the correct or incorrect meaning for what we are trying to express.

Why is this so important now?

In a time when we are fragile both physically and emotionally, it is imperative that we take extra care with our words.

For example, before the start of a prayer service held via Zoom, I heard participant #1 greet participant #2 by saying he hadn’t seen participant #2 for some time. In normal circumstances that might appear to be a pleasant greeting, yet in this specific prayer service, the greeting could be seen as a reprimand. (Participant #2 was clearly at a loss for words when asked “Where have you been?”) The better and more sensitive approach would have been a greeting that only said “How nice to see you.”

Or take the account of a first responder who felt so badly that he couldn’t physically comfort (his usual practice) someone whose wife had just died. The first responder bemoaned he could only use words to comfort the husband.

Now could be the time to use our writing abilities to comfort those in isolation.

Perhaps your elderly parents live across the country. This might be a good opportunity to interview them via phone on their childhood memories. Then you can write those memories so these can be shared with other family members.

My 95-year-old father Al Zimbler died in the early hours of March 19 (not from the virus). Since I couldn’t fly from Los Angeles to Chicago for the funeral, I found another way to honor his memory:

I went through his eight humorous short story books (published on Amazon) looking for the asterisk next to a short story title that indicated a true story. Then I created a page on his comedy website with links to all the true stories in chronological order (or the best order I could figure out). When people called or emailed me about his death, I sent them the link to the true stories (see

Perhaps an organization that you support needs someone to volunteer to write emails to organization members. Or your synagogue or church needs help creating phone scripts to explain changes (especially for people who don’t use email).

I just received an email from a member of the Great Books discussion group to which I belong. Because some of the members aren’t very tech savvy, we have not yet tried Zoom meetings as other book discussion groups have. Instead this member shared his thoughts on the books he read for which we weren’t able to have our discussion meetings. (We set up our two-books-a-month reading schedule a year ahead of time, so we all have the list of the books for 2020.)

Consider starting an online discussion with your friends to share your thoughts on the different books you are each currently reading (or listening to) or on other shared interests. Email and Zoom may have to be our public forums for a considerable length of time.

In conclusion, Joylene and I welcome you to add in the comments below more ideas of how we can use our writing abilities (from the safety of our own homes) to reach out to others in this time of COVID-19.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is an author and screenwriter in Los Angeles. She can be reached through her website at

Phyllis Zimbler Miller

Screenwriter * Author

Skype: PhyllisZimblerMiller12

Member of Women in Film

Member of Military Writers Society of America

Comments 13

  1. I truly believe words can cut as well as mend relationships, stories, and political situations, to name a few. I know I painstakingly labor over description and dialogue in both my YA short stories and my college memoir. My 95 year old mother-in-law calls daily to say she’s bored during this pandemic. I thank God she is safe. Let’s hope this trial ends soon. Sorry to hear your father has died, Phyllis. My prayers are with you and your family.

  2. Alex, Diane, Sandra, Hal, Elizabeth, Janet, and Bonnie… thank you so much for visiting my blog and commenting on Phyllis’s post. Your words meant a lot.

  3. Phyllis,
    It’s no secret I’ve had an online crush on your Dad for years. How I would have loved to have known him in person. As funny as he was, I shall most remember Al Zimbler for more somber reasons.

    His final days, spent without his wife and other family members to comfort him; his subsequent death with his family still scattered from coast to coast; your family attending part of his service/celebration of life – via Zoom – were all part of my first realization of exactly how deeply Covid-19 would impact our lives in indelible ways we could neither have fathomed nor written as fiction because no one would have believed the plot points.

    Your Dad would want you to keep using words to impact the greater good during this pandemic that has forever impacted your life and your final memories of your sweet father.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like your father was a remarkable man. Your observations about the power of words to heal or hurt are exactly right, and their power is increased now that words are all we have for so many of the relationships in our lives. Take care. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  5. What a great tribute to your dad. Mine passed away years ago and I miss him (and my mom) every day. What a special gift to still have his stories.

    This period of time is stressful for everyone, but I can only imagine how hard it is hitting families with emotional issues. Reaching out to people as you said, could be the greatest gift.

  6. Phyillis, May you know no more sorrow.
    I loved the video clip of your Dad. Very funny and wise.
    Your article is meaningful and well written.
    Chag samaoch,
    Regards to Mitch,
    Hal Krevoy

  7. Phyllis, So sorry to of the death of your father. You found a wonderful way to honor him.

    Hi Joylene, Thanks for stopping by the blog. Have a productive, pleasant day. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

  8. Phyllis, I’m so sorry to hear you lost your father and couldn’t be there. But what a way to honor him.

    I am looking into Zoom right now as a way to continue offering my publishing & promoting seminars online rather than in person.

    1. Diane, I appreciate your thoughts about my father. I just watched the video of him that Joylene included here which I hadn’t watched for some time. He certainly gave good advice on the video (and in life).

      And I highly recommend Zoom — it works very well for different types of meetings.

  9. Post

    OMG, Phyllis, your father was remarkable. So sweet and so funny. I love his stories! The one about trying to have sex in their apartment where they shared the kitchen was hysterical. His stand-up-act was very funny. What a wonderful legacy he left. Thank you so much for sharing. He obviously was an awesome human being.

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