"For as long as I can remember, I knew that Hannah was special," said Ashley Schaus, 23. "And I knew that, as her sister, that I was going to look out for her.” Ashley's fifteen-year-old sister Hannah has Down syndrome. She has taken it upon herself to be Hannah’s caregiver in addition to her big sister. Before Will Seaton asked for Ashley’s hand in marriage, he got down on one knee and asked Hannah to be his best friend forever. Ashley incorporated Hannah into their wedding festivities. "This day is as much about Hannah as it is about me," Ashley said. "She may not get the chance to get married, so I want to make sure she does get to have this experience."
Ashley asked Hannah if she felt pretty in the dress she selected at David’s Bridal. Ashley wanted Hannah to wear a white dress to the wedding so that she would stand out in her role as “Best Sister”, which Ashley coined to signify that Hannah was more than a bridesmaid.
Hannah read the book “The Adventures of Lilly and Hannah” to Ashley as they sat on Hannah’s bed at their Evanston home. Ashley writes personalized books starring Hannah and her pets to help Hannah practice reading.
Ashley rubbed moisturizing lotion on Hannah’s face. Hannah has diabetes, which makes her skin dry out faster. Both Ashley and Will have learned to notice changes in Hannah’s blood sugar based on her behavior.
Ashley, Hannah and Will brainstormed ideas for Hannah's "tacky tourist" costume for homecoming spirit week at Heritage Hills High School as they dined on pizza at Noble Roman's. Hannah giggled as Will suggested sunscreen on her nose. The couple includes Hannah on most of their dates.
Hannah, left, and Ashley held hands during Ashley’s bridal shower at Hatfield United Methodist Church. Ashley made Hannah a Best Sister sash, but when it was forgotten at home, she let Hannah wear her Bride sash.
Will chased Hannah with the fish she caught at a neighbor’s pond. For years, Ashley tried to teach Hannah how to fish with no luck. The first time the sisters went fishing with Will, he was able to teach Hannah in a matter of minutes.
Hannah painted Ashley’s toenails the same shade of red that Ashley had painted Hannah’s fingernails. Even though Hannah’s pedicure resulted in some excess polish on Ashley’s toes, she proudly wore it all day.
Ashley helped Hannah apply deodorant after her shower. The two sisters used to shower together every night, but as Hannah has gotten older and learned the routine, Ashley now only needs to poke her head in to point out the different products. Following the routine-- which includes doing their hair, brushing their teeth, applying deodorant and moisturizing-- has helped Hannah learn the process and work towards increasing her independence.
Ashley leaned in to encourage Hannah as she said her best friend vows to Will during the wedding ceremony officiated by Rev. James England. “You are my brother and my best friend forever,” said Hannah. “I promise to go fishing. I promise to tell funny jokes. I promise to care for you. Thank you for being in my life.” Will returned the sentiment in his friendship vows to Hannah.
Hannah fed Will a piece of wedding cake as Ashley waited her turn to do the same during the wedding reception. In her vows to Will, Ashley said, “Hannah and I were a packaged deal from the start and you have loved both of us more and more each day.”
Ashley and Hannah relaxed in a hammock swing outside of Ashley and Will's barn apartment near their family home in Evanston. Ashley and Will plan on building a house on the same property, so that they are never far from Hannah, who lives with their parents.