The Pandemic Diaries: How documenting Canadians' stories helped George Pimentel cope with the new reality of COVID-19

By George Pimentel, as told to Sarah Trumbley

This piece originally appeared as part of The Pandemic Diaries series in Issue 728/729 of HELLO! Canada magazine.

What were you doing when COVID-19 became a fact of life? We invited some Canadian stars to answer this question while documenting their lives during the pandemic – the highs, the lows, how they coped, what they learned.

Nearly six months into lockdown, and as the summer draws to a close, our celebrity-diarists – a mix of famous faces and behind-the-scenes superstars – are sharing those stories exclusively with HELLO! Canada readers. Their revealing, touching, at times humorous personal essays, accompanied by candid photos, show just how much we all have in common as we continue to navigate these unusual days, separately yet together.

Below,celebrity photographer George Pimentel shares how he and his wife, Fernie, and their kids Jacqueline and Sebastian have been coping with the new reality.

We were all glued to the TV watching the news. When they announced that Tom Hanks had COVID-19 and that the NBA was cancelled, I knew it was serious. I felt scared and I became a complete germaphobe.

We went into social isolation right away once the pandemic hit. No more friends or family visits. i was on my family's case, reminding them to wash their hands every chance they could. Even while visiting my 86-year-old father, I had to keep my distance. I drove to his house and he came outside for some fresh air, with no one else around. I stayed in the car and he stayed outside, and we both placed a hand on either side of the closed car window.

"It's not a hug or a handshake, but I'll take it," I said at the time.

The best part about staying home, actually, was knowing where my kids were every day. Home-cooked meals and dinner with my wife and kids, it reminded me of how it used to be with my parents and siblings. Of course, my kids had nothing better to do but to play a prank on me, though. I bought a bicycle – when lockdown restrictions started to ease, I began biking to see more of the city – which was a big deal for me. Well, I came home one day to an open garage, which my son usually forgets to close, and there was no bike! I thought it was stolen and I flipped out – not knowing that my kids were laughing at me from the side of the house... with my bike.

"I realize life is too short and we can't forget about the little things that are really important to us," George says of what the pandemic has taught him. Photo: © George Pimentel

It really did feel like we were in a Great Depression, though. Seeing the numbers increase every day, not knowing if life will get back to being normal... we were all suffering a great deal of anxiety. The streets were deserted and I would see people lined up outside the grocery store. It was surreal. I worried, too, about unemployment and how people were going to get by.

My career, for example, just disappeared when it was doing so well. All the events that I would normally shoot were cancelled. And I really miss that part of my job. You get conditioned - day in and day out, your calendar is pretty much set with awards shows, film festival premieres, charity events. And every day I think, "Will we ever get crowds like that back? Are those red-carpet days over for me?" I miss all the people and the relationships I've built.

MORE: These were HELLO! Canada readers' favourite photos from the

I did, however, decide to start doing independent projects. Instead of thinking about financial gain, I began concentrating on the work I really wanted to do at the beginning of my career. I started documenting the streets and constructing a project called Canada COVID Portrait, which allowed anybody to submit their own photos to show how they, and society, have been adapting to the pandemic. I felt like I could help people by documenting their stories. The excitement I had working on this project made me feel like I was 18 again.

And now, it's weird, I'm actually happier. It's nice to have a certain sense of freedom with my career. And this whole thing has made me reflect on life. When I wake up, I appreciate things more. I realize life is too short, and we can't forget about the little things that are really important to us.

In this challenging time, it’s really hard to be separated from family and friends. It’s also a time when everyone needs a beautiful escape. Here at Hello! Canada, we’re still busy creating the magazine you know and love, to spread positivity and provide some entertainment as a gentle reprieve from all the hard news. And with our new special offer for subscribers, there’s never been a better time to have Hello! delivered directly to your front door. Why not treat yourself, or someone you love, today?

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