Mary Waitherero Claudio was going about her business as a young energetic woman with big dreams for her family. She had just turned 30, had two adorable children and was four months pregnant with her third child.
Life was good and her union with husband Joseph Tharuma was a blissful romantic adventure. But in December 2013, in an unprecedented turn of events, the tide turned.
“I found myself immersed in a private and personal journey of unanticipated grief,” she narrates how she found herself in uncharted waters.
Her husband of four years laid on the gurney, critically ill after accidentally falling off a storey building in Westlands, Nairobi. Doctors were unable to stabilise him and he succumbed eight days later while in the intensive care unit at Nairobi Hospital.
As a young woman and mother, Claudio was suddenly faced with learning how to handle constant sadness, fear, lack of concentration, loneliness and grieving.
Tharuma’s abrupt and unanticipated demise had jolted her senses, thrusted her into autopilot as she figured out how to bring up her children without their father.
But instead of going on an overdrive-grieving mode, the 36-year-old’s maternal instinct kicked in to save her unborn baby despite the whirlwind of emotions.
“My mind went into a protective mode and I shelved grieving. I knew I had to save the baby I was carrying. Here I’m four and half months pregnant, I have a one and a three-year-old who needed me,” she narrates.
It is after the birth of her daughter that she unexpectedly descended into grieving having suppressed the process for months. “My new born baby also looked exactly like her father and I drowned even further into grieving. I went from anger to questioning God,” she shares, adding that you can never be prepared enough for death and when it happens, only time heals.
At the time of mourning her husband, Claudio had an upcoming exam that she needed to pass in order to become an advocate, a test she had failed the previous year. “I sat that exam a month after I gave birth to my last born. I was grieving and did not have any care in the world. I did not care if I failed the exam…and surprisingly I passed,” she gleans.
Passing the Kenya School of Law exam was important to fulfill a promise she had made to her late husband that she would become an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.
Claudio started talking about her husband’s death to her children after two years of mourning and when they were old enough to comprehend things better. “After I had come to terms with their father’s death and they were a bit older, I was finally able to have a conversation with them. They had started asking ‘where is daddy? Is he in heaven? Can we go
visit him?’ My children had to learn about death while they were so young,” she shares.
And it wasn’t an easy task, she first demystified the entire topic of death through stories that they could relate to, such as Jesus being crucified on the cross. This is a story they learnt in scripture and Sunday school. Also where Jesus went after he died. “I used to tell them that just like Jesus, their daddy also went to heaven. And as they grow older, I find myself retelling the story according to their level of maturity. One thing I can say is that children are very resilient and need to be told the truth in the right manner that suits their maturity level,” she explains.
Despite a myriad of challenges that would confront her in months following her husband’s death, Claudio was above all odds like the proverbial phoenix to become an advocate.
After becoming an advocate in 2016, she entered into practice and ventured into Environmental law, specialising in Mining and Extractive (oil and gas) as well as water and sanitation, consequently becoming a member of the Kenya Chambers of Mines.
In sheer display of determination, the mother of three went on to prove the naysayers wrong by setting up her firm, Tharuma Trevisan Advocates, partly named after her late husband, at a time when most young lawyers were seeking employment in established firms.
Legal practice, she notes has not been easy as the profession is highly patriachial. “Although more women than men are getting admitted to the bar, in practice it still remains a male dominated profession,” she says pointing out that just like any other business, it takes a lot hard work, determination and strategic planning to run a law firm. The business development aspect needs a direct focus because without a client base there would be no work. She feels that specialisation is key to creating a niche for Lawyers today. I am very passionate on Environmental Law issues and would like to focus on several areas such as the extractive industry, oil and gas, waste management and water and sanitation.
Things have been weaving up and Claudio who describes her grind as “from gumboots to heels” now wears many hats.
She is a director at Power and Solar Limited, a firm specialising in irrigation, infrastructure, sewerage, dams and pans and has been fortunate to win bids from the Agriculture ministry. She holds the same position at Lelo Investments Ltd, which engages in real estate projects as well as mining and mineral extraction.
In her endless list, the young lawyer is also the chair of the Human Capital and Governance committee at Pioneer International University and sits on the board of various companies in East Africa.
By Seth Onyango