That is the part I found interesting. The idea that this special closeness comes when he suffers with Jesus. Jesus talked about taking up our cross and following Him. Yet we hear that and kind of hope that never happens. Yet this intimacy with Jesus that we all want happens in that very place. The place where we suffer and unite our sufferings with the suffering of Jesus. Now this guy had an easier time uniting his suffering with Jesus. Jesus was literally suffering with him just a few feet away. Yet we can choose to do that. We can meditate on the suffering of Jesus during our times of great pain. Tradition tells us that the crucifixion of Jesus is an even that transcends time. It is available to us. We can go to the cross anytime we want to. It can bring us closer to Jesus than we ever imagined.
I have heard that story many times. People saying their faith was basically dead and then a tragedy happened. Often a loved one dies. In the middle of that pain they fall in love with Jesus. We have a choice in that hour of suffering. The choices are voiced well by the two thieves. One is anger at God. Telling God He has to fix your suffering or you will say He is a fraud.
The other is brutal honesty. He admits he fears God. He admits he committed the crimes he is being punished for. Then he admits he is desperate. He wants to be with Jesus and he is not. So he asks. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. That cry for mercy that we hear so many times in this book of Luke.
Jesus does not end his suffering. He remains on the cross. Jesus comforts him by saying they will suffer together and go to the next world together. That is the same comfort He gives us. We are not told out suffering will end. It may go on for a long time. What we are told is Jesus will be close to us every step of the way. That when we meet Him in our darkest hours we can continue to have that relationship with Him even when those hours have past.