IT’S the strangest feeling: to say the word “Mum”, and realise that nobody, living, loving and breathing, stands behind that word anymore.

I don’t wish to challenge those who fondly imagine her in an afterlife, re-entwining with my Dad, who died 12 years ago on the same calendar date, the day before my birthday. It’s as if they had a long-standing appointment, ready and waiting.

But I’m a poor broken atheist, and that’s that. The last conversation

I had with my father centred on the Big Bang. “So if that’s supposed to be the beginning of the universe, then someone or something must have started that off ... There’s my faith. Answer me that, son”.

I’d no answer (and to be fair, even the best physicists struggle). The other year, when my partner Indra and I took Mary Kane to see the Infant Child of Prague – a cherubic statue set in a highly wrought altar, on a long street in the Czech capital – I sat behind her. She sobbed and shuddered on her pew, her faith yearning out to the icon.

I couldn’t feel what she felt; but I couldn’t fail to be moved by what this powerful, proud, autonomous woman needed from her religion.

We read this scripture at her service yesterday. “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angel nor prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, nor any power, nor height nor depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God”.

To be honest, when in full flow, nothing could indeed come between my mother and the object of her love (and on occasion, her fury).

Mary Kane was born on July 3, 1933. She was the outcome of a liaison between the wars: a time of confusion and neediness, when people threw themselves into each other’s arms for solace – and sometimes had to deal with the the consequences.

After some time in an orphanage, Mary Kane came home to her Coatbridge family. If you ever wanted a perfect script for a Scottish working-class girl, aspiring to excellence, self-improvement and progress, look to my mother’s childhood and teens.

Walking out from the Irish Catholic ghetto in Coatbridge known as Paddysland, she went to elocution lessons, and would perform her recitations of Shakespeare at parties.

Her dad – a labourer who built defences at Scapa Flow – would take her to Glasgow concert halls on his return. They followed the great conductor of the time, Walter Susskind. She was caught in a newspaper photograph, open-mouthed, under the title “a young fan transported”.

And if that wasn’t enough, in her late teens she nearly became Scotland’s swimming representative in the Commonwealth Games, just missing the qualifying time for her butterfly stroke.

Have you ever seen the butterfly stroke? You throw your arms out, you grab the world, you pull it behind you through sheer force – and then you do it again and again and again. That, in essence, was Mary Kane.

But what Mum aspired to be most was a nurse – and not just a nurse, but a midwife. If you look up the definition of vocation, it says “a strong feeling that one is suited for a particular occupation or profession”.

You bet. We have many memories of her pounding the streets of Coatbridge – a striking figure in her blue uniform, with the blue oval hat, and her blue medicine bag in hand.

Our late dad, John Kane, described my Mum as “the first ever feminist”. Because in no way, beloved husband and children or not, was she going to give up being a working mother, and be “the quiet wee woman indoors” (as she put it).

My mum had begun notes for a book about her time in the NHS, titled “Who Cares?” Well, she cared – twenty-four seven, in every direction, no matter who called for her help.

When she was a young nurse in Naples, she rolled up her sleeves and cleaned up the poorhouses there, improving basic medical standards. But she also read Robert Burns to convalescing contessas on the Isle of Capri, and toured Europe as an assistant to neurosurgeons. She juggled roots, and routes, with ease.

And when Aids began to rear its head in the 80s, Mum was one of the first to volunteer her skills as a “barrier” nurse. This meant that Sister Kane was willing to lay her hands on bearers of the syndrome, even when the scare stories about the condition were at their most extreme.

As a committed nurse, she would battle with consultants, doctors, managers, anyone and everyone, if she felt that resources weren’t going to where they were needed – which was to mothers and patients. And if she didn’t get her bosses’ permission ... well, she found a way to distribute them anyway.

The great joy for her, at the centre of it all, was bringing the babies of Coatbridge into the world. Home deliveries were her speciality. Our mum was all woman – and never more so in these moments, which could be tricky and dangerous for all parties. But no-one could have been more reliable, skilled or comforting in the birthing room than her.

The last decade of our mum’s life was marked by two struggles: coping with the death of her beloved husband John Kane, and the inexorable advance of her osteoporosis – basically, the crumbling of her bones.

She talked to John every day in the morning, just after her prayers, when the house was clear and empty. They had much to talk about.

Their dancing days doing the foxtrot at Green’s Palace in Glasgow. What to do about their artistic, unconventional sons (“no news is good news”, Dad would be telling her). The family rail holidays to Italy, eating french fries in the Gare du Nord along the way. And no doubt, how passionately they loved each other, which was plain for anyone to see.

As for the osteoporosis, Mum would thump the table and ask God why she had to suffer this (“all the things I would do if I had better legs!”). It stopped her from striding through the world as she once did.

So instead, Mum brought the whole wide world into her dining room, where she would preside over a stream of visitors or, more accurately, debating partners.

Mum grew to love the news channels, and especially Radio Four and The Week magazine. These informed her so well about the affairs of the world that you’d have to be on your toes: “So,” she would start, “what about these negotiations over the Syrian refugee situation, then ...” Yes, what about them, Mum ...

When the independence referendum came in 2014, Mum was caught up in the fervour of the Yes side.

She tried to become an advocate for the cause whenever she occasionally ventured out to shops or bingo halls. (In Coatbridge, at least, she had some success.)

But she would constantly surprise you with her ideology. She wanted people to be responsible for their actions. She would never ever put it this way, but she had a very good bullshit meter.

Mum had pulled herself up by her own bootstraps so many times, she could clearly see when you weren’t trying hard enough.

She came from a tough, literally battle-hardened generation. We can learn a lot from them, about how to get our priorities right.

“If you ask me to do something”, she’d say, “I’ll do anything for you. But if you tell me to do it? No chance.”

Quite a philosophy. And maybe the basis for her life – her amazing, ambitious, surprising life.

“Mum”: just say it. And she’s here.