Jen Santamaria knew her wedding ceremony wouldn’t be complete without a special song from her big brother.
As the 31-year-old prepared to wed her fiancé Jesse Santamaria, she knew she wanted her brother, Jesse Marcus, who has autism, to have a special role in the wedding. So, she asked the 32-year-old to sing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from Disney’s The Lion King.
“My brother and I have always been close. He’s always been so special to me and throughout my life,” Santamaria tells PEOPLE. “He’s always loved to sing and he loves to perform. I thought it would be so touching for him to actually sing at the ceremony. His speech has been quite limited … and this is kind of his way of communicating. So [I thought] a song would be perfect.”
Marcus, of New Jersey, worked with his caretaker, Will Sandoval, for about six months to prepare for his big performance, Santamaria says.
“He was very excited. His autism really limits him in showing his excitement but I knew he was excited because he’s very repetitive,” the newlywed explains. “He likes to remind you things over and over. Anytime we’d talk about the wedding, he would always say, ‘Jesse Marcus singing ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight.’ ”
Video footage of the performance shows Marcus wearing a tuxedo and sunglasses as he sings for the 130 guests on Nov. 18 as Santamaria and Jesse hold hands on the beach.
“I was so proud to have him because he played such a big role in my life and I felt like we were able to honor him in the right way,” Santamaria, of New York City, tells PEOPLE, noting that there was “not a dry eye” in the room.
“During the time he was singing and I was watching him, it was just an overwhelming sense of how proud I am of him and how grateful I am to have him as my brother. Hands down, it was the best moment of the wedding for me.”
She says Jesse seemed please with himself after the performance and enjoyed the reception, dancing and eating with friends and family. Santamaria says that although Jesse is a year older than she is, she’s always felt like the older sibling.
“He’s always been so special to me and throughout my life has always just been someone that I think has made me such a better person,” she says. “He’s made me really appreciative of the things that I have and helps me see the world in a different way.”
She even spoke of her brother in her wedding vows to her husband, Jesse.
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“Throughout the years I always wanted different qualities in my future husband. As a child, I insisted that husband would love my brother and treat him like his own,” she said.
She adds to PEOPLE: “My husband is my perfect match for me. He fulfilled that perfectly because he adores my brother.”