I called Claes in Stockholm to tell him Dad had died. Claes lived with my family in Connecticut as an exchange student thirty years ago. We talked about all our good times with Dad, but also about how many in our parents' generation have dementia and how little we know about it.
When Claes first arrived in the U.S., smörgåsbord was the only Swedish word we knew, and we teased him by using the word as a kind of shorthand for many unrelated things. A few years later, our entire family went to Sweden for his wedding , and Dad got to experience actual smörgåsbords. He was horrified by these tables spread with 15-30 dishes. They seemed to be dazzling arrays of food until you realized most of the dishes were made with herring, a food Dad disliked: pickled herring: herring with dill, herring with mustard sauce, and the famous "Jansson's temptation" (a brown and grey mix of baked herring, potatoes and onions). While the number of choices was overwhelming, none were really appealing. Somehow, smörgåsbord became a theme in our family life.
Two decades after Claes's wedding, it became clear that Dad's memory was declining. I set up an appointment for my parents at an Alzheimers Disease Research Center at a major university. Two years, four doctors and numerous tests later, we ended up with a smörgåsbord of diagnoses: stroke, possible Alzheimers, iron overload, vitamin deficiency or vascular dementia. The array of choices was overwhelming, but none were appealing.